Army Beta Test and Results
Caption: The US Army decided to give its soldiers an intelligence test. As many troops, like many Americans at the time, did not read, the test used pictures instead of words.Read plain text of document
The US Army offered up its recruits as a test population for the new intelligence tests. The tests had been Initiated in France but then modified for new uses in the US by psychologists like Henry Goddard, Lewis Terman and Robert Yerkes. The test’s creators promised to help the Army discern levels of preparation and aptitude among its soldiers.1
Enlisted soldiers (as compared to officers) came to the Army from all regions of the US - meaning that they had a wide range of experiences with schooling. Some white soldiers had received well-resourced public education from first through twelfth grade - and others had left school in 8th grade or earlier, as was common at the time. Black soldiers, especially the majority still living in the US South, went to drastically under-funded schools and likely did not have a high school available to them.2 And many came as new immigrants to the US - often from southern and eastern Europe and the Caribbean, - and did not yet speak English. Given this population, the Army sought a test that did not depend on test-takers’ ability to read. Thus the Army Beta test was born, using small sketches and asking soldiers to fill in what was missing.
Presumably each soldier received a score, but the results were also published in aggregate - when soldiers’ scores were grouped by racial or national origin. The results only confirmed the white supremacist assumptions of many elites at the time. The Army’s elite - its officer corps - scored at the top, while some northern European immigrant groups performed better than US born white people. Most recent immigrants were closer to the bottom. But they were above the group labeled “U.S. (Colored).”
Other results from the tests pointed out that Black people from the US North had higher average scores than Black people from the US South. Some commenters explained that this meant that it was the smarter African Americans who had chosen to make the migration north. Historian and educator Horace Mann Bond called all of the discussion of intelligence tests “insidious propaganda.” He wrote in the NAACP’s magazine The Crisis that there was “only one obvious explanation” for this score difference. Black people in the North had “infinitely superior home, civil, and above all school conditions,” while their Southern peers had been “deprived of the same.” While many observers seemed not to question racist claims based on the Army beta test results, Black scholars like Bond and others opposed them. These scholars pointed out how impossible it was to test intelligence equally in such an unequal society.3
By contrast, white psychologists like Henry Goddard argued that the tests were “not tests of school training; they are tests of mental development. Any person who has lived in any sort of average environment for the requisite number of years is able to do these tests, even though he has never been to school, even for a day.” In Goddard’s view, any trouble with the test showed “mental defectiveness.”4
Despite these and other criticisms, claims about differences in average intelligence by race and nation made their way into policy discussions. This included the decision to severely restrict immigration to the U.S. in 1924 - but to leave more spaces open for those from northern Europe.
Steven Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man (New York: Norton, 1981); see also “Race and Intelligence,” https://understandingrace.org/history/science/race-and-intelligence-1900-1930/ and ”Eugenics and Physical Anthropology,”https://understandingrace.org/history/science/eugenics-and-physical-anthropology-1890-1930/, accessed July 22, 2023 ↩︎
James Anderson, The Education of Blacks in the South, 1865-1930. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988). ↩︎
Horace Mann Bond, “Intelligence Tests and Propaganda,” The Crisis, vol. 28(2), June, 1924, p. 61. See also Alan Stoskopf, “An Untold Story of Resistance: African American Educators and IQ Testing in the 1920s and 1930s,” Rethinking Schools, https://rethinkingschools.org/articles/an-untold-story-of-resistance/#8, Accessed July 22, 2023. ↩︎
Henry H. Goddard and Helen F. Hall, “The Training School,” 1911 https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=chi.73416085&view=1up&seq=45 ↩︎
Creator: Carl Brigham, A Study of American Intelligence (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1923).
Source: Carl Brigham, A Study of American Intelligence (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1923).
Copyright: Public Domain
How to cite: “Army Beta Test and Results” in New York City Civil Rights History Project, Accessed: [Month Day, Year], https://nyccivilrightshistory.org/gallery/army-test."
- What do you think this test is testing? Is it testing intelligence, or something else?
- If one group has a lower average score than another, what does that tell us (if anything) about the scores of individuals in that group? How do the mathematical concepts of “mean” and “range” help our thinking here?