test. tested. testing.

Prompted by the document scanner I received for Christmas, I started sorting, scanning and filing about a decade’s worth of paperwork last week. Oh, the wonder of OneNote. During this excavation, I discovered a clear plastic folder my mom had given to me a few years ago. Inside were some important things like my birth certificate and an old passport. My acceptance and scholarship letter from UVa. That kind of thing.

In addition to these proofs of my existence, my mom had saved things like Standards of Learning (SOL) test scores from tenth grade, report cards from eleventh grade, AP and SAT test scores. I got a 1280, by the way. I giggled at the proud mama-ness of it all, looking at all of these now-obsolete datapoints about my fifteen and sixteen-year old capabilities.

What bearing does my 93 in AP Environmental Science have on my life now? None, whatsoever, but I do remember enjoying that class. We read about sustainability and global ethics in Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. The theory of the Tragedy of the Commons. Our teacher, Mrs. Hypes, made us do research entirely in printed media: newspapers, science magazines and periodicals. No internet searches allowed. We helped with an elementary school science day. I helped fifth graders build water purifiers from rock and sand. I also volunteered with an after-school gifted-in-science program for middle-schoolers. Looking back, this was probably the first experience I had with teaching. So no, neither I nor anyone else cares about the grade I got in 2003 in an AP class, but what I learned that year has had a significant bearing on my life.

Due to the ongoing job search, I requested my UVa transcripts in case someone wants proof I attended. Besides the four years worth of Facebook posts from my dorm, the sorority house, the Grounds, the apartment on 14th street. Social media definitely says I was there, but my guess is that employers would like something more official. The transcript is interesting. Reading it, I feel like an archeologist deciphering the decline and subsequent rise of an ancient culture. Besides the obvious, what do the numbers and GPA say about my life during those years? I see the first year I mostly stayed in bed. I see the semester I got past the required coursework, drilled down a bit more on my interests, but also joined a sorority. I see the final two years working like hell to bring up my GPA, on the Dean’s List. I see the concentration of my passions in Linguistics and Italian studies and the corresponding successes in those areas. I see the year I volunteered with foreign graduate students as an ESL tutor. When I arrived, it was immediately clear to me that I was nowhere near the smartest kid at UVa. I was not an engineering prodigy or a pre-med struggling through Organic Chemistry. I was not a mogul-in-the-making with an eye on the Darden School. But I am proud of myself. Proud that I found and pursued my passions. Proud that I graduated from Virginia having put everything I had into it.

Like many others this past weekend, I sat mesmerized by the Netflix docuseries Making a MurdererTalk about a train wreck. There was a lot of talk about the intellectual capabilities of Brendan Dassey. Sixteen year old Brendan was said to have an IQ around 70. Of course, I start Googling. I wanted to know what an IQ of 70 actually means in the real world. I want to know what the upper and lower ends of the scale are. I also would like to know where I fall on that scale. Turns out, there are many different types of IQ tests and the scale runs from about 45 to 155. I took five online IQ tests, each using a slightly different methodology to give myself a good idea, within one standard deviation, of my own IQ.

Here were the sites I used and my scores:

Averaging these together, and with the understanding that these were probably not the most accurate or official tests out there, this leaves me with an IQ around 126. Given I did not want to pay these websites for a full report, I got little more than my number on a sliding scale. Although, seemypersonality.com did tell me that creativity and writing are not strengths of mine. I’ll just ignore that, thank you very much. Depending on which scale you use, my intelligence quotient is categorized as either “Superior” or “High”. While those are very nice-sounding words, they, like my high school and college tests scores, do not tell the whole story.

Numbers are not strengths, simply indicators. My numbers indicate that my mind works more quickly and retains more than others. This says nothing about my emotional strengths or weaknesses. Says nothing about the fact that my family has been laughing at my seeming lack of common sense since I was a kid. Says nothing about my potential as a leader or my social skills. Says nothing about compassion or kindness. Nothing of perseverance.

Life seems to be full of tests. Never-ending tests. We are assigned numbers and ratings from the time we are in Kindergarten and on through adulthood. Think about how numbers affected the type of opportunities or limits on your own life. Or your children’s lives. From the very start. As a society, we place such high value on numbers alone. Funneling people into corresponding buckets. You’ll be placed in a gifted and talented program. You’ll be placed in remedial classes. You’ll be encouraged to take STEM electives. You’ll be steered towards auto shop and cosmetology. You’ll be given a full ride scholarship. You’ll encouraged to take community college classes. You’ll be hired. You’ll be passed on. You’ll be promoted. You’ll remain in your current position.

There is so much more to the intelligence, worth and strengths of a person than the numbers our society uses to define us from the age of five. My own numbers have led me through a great life thus far. Complete luck of the draw that my earliest numbers pushed me to the position to continue to earn and benefit from more numbers. Not everyone is so lucky. We need to recognize that and fight for another way. A better way to measure and quantify a person. Numbers do not tell the whole story.

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