Robert Sternberg, the psychologist who asked the man on the street what it meant to be smart, has also argued that there are three kinds of intelligence: analytic, practical, and creative. He would probably find that Elise scored high in two of his three kinds: analytic (her ability to learn information and use it to solve new problems) and practical (she knew how to figure out what was required of her to reach her goal). In the end, that practical intelligence is as powerful for Elise as her analytic intelligence. But the point is, Elise's experiences in school pushed her forward. By the time someone is in college, it's not always easy to figure out whether academic success is rooted in intelligence or in earlier academic success. In other words, being smart might cause children to do well at school, but doing well at school also causes children to continue doing well at school.
For many children, the desire and ability to conform to expectations is as big a part of their success in school as their intellect and might well carry them even farther. Academic success tends to be self-perpetuating. And by the same token, the child who does not do well in school might continue to have trouble. She might not do her homework. She might question every assignment. She might skip classes. She might act surly in school. All of these qualities can affect her grade, and yet she might in fact be very smart. On the one hand, you can say she is bright but just doesn't do well in school. However, over time, a child who is not treated as if she is bright might begin to function as if she is not bright. As a result, by the time she is an adult, she might not have the knowledge and skills she could have acquired by participating more fully in school, which in fact would allow her to do the things intelligent people do. In other words, by the time a person is thirty years old, her functional intellect is no longer simply a matter of potential—it's a matter of what she has actually learned and done.
IQ might or might not capture all we would wish about the ineffable but powerful quality we call intelligence. However, it predicts a lot, and it's surprisingly stable—it doesn't change much over a person's lifetime.
The Resilient IQ One of the simplest and most compelling facts about IQ tests is that the measure is so sturdy. If you give a child a proper IQ test (say, the Stanford-Binet or the Wechsler) when he is five and test him again when he is eighteen, he is likely to get a similar score. More important, if you give a group of ten children the test when they are five, each of them is likely to get the same score, in relation to the others, when he or she is eighteen. In other words, even though children know more as they get older and change in significant ways (double their size, learn to read and write and do math, and acquire whole bodies of knowledge about topics such as baseball, dinosaurs, car mechanics, or American history), whatever it is that is captured by an IQ test remains pretty much the same. Kids think they get smarter in school. They don't. They just acquire knowledge and skills.