"It changes the question from 'How smart are you?' to 'How are you smart?'" said C. Branton Shearer, a Kent developmental psychologist and author of the Multiple Intelligence Developmental Assessment Scales.
Shearer's MIDAS program, which has child, teen and adult versions, was inspired by the theory of multiple intelligences originally introduced by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner in his 1983 book "Frames of Mind."
Gardner's theory recognizes seven intelligences: bodily/kinesthetic, musical, spatial, math/logical, linguistic, interpersonal and intrapersonal. Traditionally, the only intelligences valued in schools are math/logical and linguistic which are reflected in measurements of intelligent quotient, Shearer said.
"What IQ has done is say that these are the only smart people," he said. "Multiple intelligence theory says there is more than one way to be smart."
Kent schools Superintendent Marc Crail said he agreed standard classroom instruction may not address the breadth of intelligences presented in Gardner's theory.
"The things that are traditionally done in the classroom only deal with one or two of these intelligences," he said. "Oftentimes _ and I think we're getting better _ we would completely miss a kid who was non-traditional who might be able to compose a sonata but doesn't have a great vocabulary."
MIDAS is a means to measure multiple intelligences so students and teachers can identify areas of strength and weakness, and develop strategies for better learning, Shearer said.
"You focus on their strengths to engage kids more in active learning," he said. "(It's) how you can use strengths to build weaknesses."
Last year, Shearer obtained a $12,000 grant from the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation in Cleveland to implement the MIDAS program in Kent schools.
Shearer worked with Assistant Superintendent Joe Giancola and Karen Schofield, director of elementary and middle school education, to identify teachers and students to participate in the project.
"We used his services for specific student groups who we thought would benefit the most from the multiple intelligence theory," Giancola said. "We wanted to start there before we moved into the regular classrooms."
Nine teachers and 168 students from grades four to 10 took part in the project. Many of the students were those who had not been engaged by traditional classroom methods.
The MIDAS program begins with an initial set of questions students answer about their own activities and abilities. Jim Fox, a teacher of middle school students who have not responded to a regular curriculum, said his students were wary at first of the self-report.
"You have to explain to the kids _ especially my kids who hate tests _ that this isn't a test," he said. "This isn't a test; this isn't a test; this isn't a test."
After the students fill out the questionnaires, their answers are processed to produce profiles in the seven intelligences. The students then react and say whether they agree or disagree with the results.
Next, a teacher, parent and peer of each student respond to the results of the initial assessment. Students finally receive these written responses and reflect on them.
Cindy Baer, who teaches ninth- and 10th-graders in the Choices program at Theodore Roosevelt High School, said in the end students are comfortable with the assessment.
"They say 'This is what I buy,'" she said. "They work with it and see that 'Yeah, this is how I see things and this is how people see me too.' Then they own it."
One of the benefits of the MIDAS is that it prompts students to learn about themselves and how they learn, Fox said.
"This process can be really engaging for individual students," he said. "It can be liberating. It lets kids learn about themselves, and I think that's what education is all about."
With the insight the MIDAS provides, students learn how to apply their strengths to classes and activities with which they have had difficulty, Baer said.
"Students learn how to turn on an intelligence area in any course to help them learn the material in that particular course," she said. "They learn how to go into any situation with their strengths first."
Lisa Reid, a Central Elementary School teacher whose third-, fourth- and sixth-graders got extra help in reading and math, said the MIDAS also helps teachers understand their students better.
"You find a commonality, and it opens the child," she said. "To really get to know your kids, I think it's almost a necessity."
Kathy Frazier, a teacher of gifted and talented children at Davey Middle School, said the information MIDAS provides is useful for planning effective lessons.
"If you write interdisciplinary units using the multiple intelligences, you're going to capture students of a lot of different intelligences," she said.
Fox said the multiple intelligence idea inspired his students.
"Some of these kids had flunked every class the year before," he said. "They really had no self-respect. All of a sudden they are learning that there are some things at which they can really be successful."
Shearer said the MIDAS was particularly applicable to career planning.
"A real advantage of assessing intelligence this way is that it's very practical," he said. "It directly relates to the real world."
Fox, Frazier, Reid and Baer all said they continued to use the MIDAS in some capacity this year. Baer was particularly excited about continuing to use it.
"We're expanding on use of it here at Roosevelt," Baer said. "I would like the world to use it."