California Barely Above Average Among ‘Smartest States’ — But Is the Data Accurate?

December 5, 2019 Updated: December 5, 2019

A new study aimed at ranking the United States’ in order of intelligence has placed California—the country’s fastest growing state with the biggest population—in the 24th slot.

The study, which was conducted by SafeHome, a website that specializes in studying and evaluating home security products, based their rankings on college degrees, high school graduation, professional or advanced degrees, and standardized test scores.

California received an overall score of 247.8, a figure somewhat higher than the national average of 221.

According to the data presented in SafeHome’s study, just over 21 percent of Californians above the age of 25 have bachelor’s degrees, and 83 percent of students in 2017 graduated high school. The state’s median SAT scores were 1,065, which falls slightly under the national average of 1,097. California was ranked ahead of New York (#32), Washington, D.C. (#31), and Texas (#30).

The study concluded that the smartest state is New Jersey, where nearly one in every four residents over 25 has a bachelor’s degree, and 91 percent of the class of 2017 graduated public high school.

New Jersey, with a combined score of 337.8, was followed by Utah, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Montana, which collectively represent the top five smartest states in the country.

In Idaho, where 18.2 percent of adults 25 or older have bachelor’s degrees and 80 percent of the 2017 class graduated high school, the state was ranked dead last behind Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, and Louisiana.

If the rankings and methodology of the study seem suspect, there might be a compelling reason: intelligence, or the degree to which any group of individuals is “smart,” is a quality that is difficult to decisively nail down.

“Intelligence is a very nebulous concept and the notion that one factor or another accurately measures the totality of everything that goes into being an intelligent human being is mythology,” Bob Schaeffer, the public education director of FairTest: The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, told The Epoch Times.

“Some people are good at math, others are great verbally, some people have skills in art and sciences, or intuition or human relations—it’s not one thing.”

The notion of different types of intelligence has been well known for years. This concept was examined by the developmental psychologist Howard Gardner and outlined in his 1983 book “Frame of Mind.”

“Nearly forty years ago, I developed the theory of multiple intelligences,” Gardner, a Hobbs Research Professor of cognition and education at Harvard Graduate School, told The Epoch Times. “That includes interpersonal intelligence and intrapersonal intelligence and those do not lend themselves to short answer instruments. We are always limited when we look only at those things that can be easily and reliably measured. Can one measure wisdom? Or beauty?”

Gardner, who is also an advisor to FairTest, views SafeHome’s study as more entertaining than valid.

“The question of which states are smart makes for an amusing party game, but I don’t take it seriously otherwise,” he said. “It makes no more sense than to ask which countries are smarter.”

“Germany might have been the highest scorer in 1914 and in 1939, and they triggered two disastrous world wars,” he said. “Putting on a judicial hat, I’d say ‘case dismissed.’”

Gardner noted that SafeHome’s use of more than one indicator to weigh various factors is “a positive,” but the overall approach might ignore more nuanced complexities.

“The deeper question is: What is meant by intelligence, and to what extent can intellect be measured by standard instruments?” he said.

“We acknowledge that we’re not taking into account things like emotional intelligence or common sense,” SafeHome noted in the study’s conclusion. “Still, if living in a state where it’s important that a lot of your neighbors went to college or where high-schoolers have impressive SAT scores, our smartest states ranking may be quite helpful.”

Schaeffer, however, suggested that test scores “measure socioeconomic status and accumulated opportunity, not intelligence.”

According to Schaeffer, SATs and ACTs are only taken by half of all high school graduates.

“It’s a doubly flawed measure,” he said. “Test scores don’t measure intelligence, and test scores don’t measure the whole population.”

The study’s consideration of high school graduation rates, on the other hand, do provide some insight, because that factor is “accepted nationally as a valid educational goal to prepare people for jobs and civic life [and] it applies to the entire population.”

Finally, the word choice of “smartest” is problematic, in Schaeffer’s view, and should be more accurately qualified.

“I don’t know [about] ‘smartest’ … You could say ‘best-educated’ … but it doesn’t mean necessarily that you’re smarter or more intelligent.”