New Jersey lawyer focusing on special education law and employment law


Learning Disabilities, the Wonderlic Test, and the NFL

Lowell Cohn has a good piece about a college football player with a learning disability who received a low score on the Wonderlic test.

Football PlayerThe Wonderlic Cognitive Abilities Test is an “intelligence test” that consists of 50 multiple choice questions that must be answered in 12 minutes. These questions consist of basic math and English questions. If you’re interested in seeing what this test looks like, try answering a few sample questions here.

A person who gets a a score of 20 on the Wonderlic test is deemed to have “average intelligence.” The NFL has been using the Wonderlic test for over 30 years to assess prospective football players. According to Wikipedia, the “average football player usually scores around 20 points.” Presumably, an aspiring football cornerback should get a score of 18 on the Wonderlic.

Somehow, Louisiana State University cornerback Morris Claiborne’s Wonderlic score of 4 was leaked to the press. Apparently, this is the lowest score ever recorded.

Obviously dismayed by the fact that this had been leaked to the press, Mr. Cohn addressed the matter head on and expressed his thoughts:

1. Morris Claiborne has documented learning disabilities and probably received accommodations and modifications at Louisiana State University.

2. It is possible that Morris Claiborne (or his agent) failed to request — or the NFL failed to offer — accommodations and modifications prior to taking the Wonderlic test.

3. The Wonderlic score is confidential and should not have been leaked to the press.

4. Many football greats received low Wonderlic scores, and there seems to be little connection between Wonderlic scores and good football skills.

5. Morris Claiborne should not be ridiculed because he received a low Wonderlic score.

Mr. Cohn should be commended for having written such a reasonable and intelligent piece.

Compare that with Mike Florio’s blog article under the derisive topic, “Claiborne gives birth to a four on the Wonderlic.”

In doing research for this blog article, I learned that Mr. Cohn was not the only person who wrote such a sensible article on the Morris Claiborn situation. Greg Gabriel at Huffington Post wrote,

When Claiborne came out of high school, the schools that recruited him knew he had a learning disability. I don’t know much about his disability other than it has to do with reading. Everyone I have talked to tells me that Claiborne has great character and is a great kid. He knows and understands his disability and uses all the resources that LSU has available to control it and to help him get by in the classroom. When it comes to football he puts in extra time to learn and understand his assignments and it is not a problem. Will he need reps? Probably, but no more than the usual rookie would need. In saying that, Claiborne’s test score was NOT a true indicator of his intelligence. He can and does learn.

Another blogger, Kyle Maher, wrote:

Morris Claiborne struggles solving math problems on an aptitude test. So what? His job is lining up in the secondary, finding the ball carrier or quarterback, and laying a big hit on him. After a few years of solid production, Claiborne’s low score will be a distant memory, another statistic nobody will remember.

In “The Wonderlic Test Proves the NFL is Stupid,” Barry Petchesky cited studies that the Wonderlic test may be “useless or worse.”

Maybe it’s me, but I don’t see how a 50-question paper-based test done in 12 minutes can be a good predictor of good football skills.

In the wake of the Morris Claiborne news, some bloggers are recommending that the NFL get rid of the Wonderlic test.

But I imagine that getting rid of the Wonderlic test will take a good long while–if it ever happens. Maybe it’ll continued to be used for the foreseeable future but not relied upon. More importantly, however, this stuff shouldn’t be leaked. Sports writer Vince Marotta wrote that there are “certain things that the general public and the media don’t need to know about when it comes NFL Draft prospects. Their Wonderlic score is at the top of that list.” I agree.

In the meanwhile: The 2012 NFL draft takes place on April 26-28. Best of luck to Morris Claiborne.

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    There are 2 comments. Add Yours.

    Damon Bryant, PhD

    I agree with the post 100%. I gave a talk at the MIT Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, MA earlier this year that reviewed several scientific articles that showed no evidence of the Wonderlic predicting performance in the NFL. It should be mandated in future NFL Collective Bargaining Agreements that assessment tools used for evaluation and selection purposes should be reliable and valid in predicting future NFL performance. If the assessment tool doesn’t predict performance, it cannot be used. Moreover, if sensitive personnel records of draftees are leaked to the public (e.g., cognitive ability scores, medical records, or private interview responses), the responsible entity should be punished under guidelines specified under the new CBA. The Wonderlic is a detriment to players with learning disabilities who have clearly demonstrated the ability to play football. With no evidence of validity at the NFL level and its adverse impact on players with learning disabilities, the use of the Wonderlic is reminiscent of the Bennett Mechanical Comprehensive Skills test in Griggs vs. Duke Power. However, I believe the ADA may be more applicable in this case.

      Matthew Stoloff, Esq. —

      Thank you for your comment.

      It is clear that the NFL wants to use an assessment tool to measure something. Based on what I’ve read — and based on your comment — it seems that the Wonderlic test is not a good predictor for good football skills.

      I find it surprising that after all these years, football players’ Wonderlic scores are still being leaked. It’s quite appalling. Every employer, psychologist, and school district personnel should know that assessment results should be confidential and should not be released without the test taker’s informed consent. Your suggestion that the CBA should contain provisions for punishing those who are responsible for leaking these test scores is a good idea. I wonder if anyone within the NFL has ever made that proposal.

      I’d like to think that the NFL has learned something from this. I’m an optimist.