CULTURAL BIAS IN TESTINGIs It Still a Problem?

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Historically, the gap in academic achievement between the races has led many scholars to investigate the underlying causes of this disparity
‍(Schellenberg 3). While there are many cultures that have been compared and studied, including Asian, Hispanic, and indigenous cultures, the most exhaustive research in American research has focused primarily on African American achievement. These learners share a common cultural history that has shaped their learning environments, economic statuses, and linguistic developments. To get a more in depth view of cultural bias, I have decided to discuss specifically African American achievement.



In order to better understand the current status of African American achievement, one must look back and assess the underlying ‍barriors‍ that have existed for this cultural group in America. Upon their capture and subsequent forced slavery, Africans were completely deprived of educational opportunities. Despite the oppressors' efforts to keep slaves ignorant, many learned to read secretly by teaching themselves or "playing school" with slave owners' children (Hilliard 24). Following the legalization of educating them, literacy among Southern African Americans from 1870-1890 was skyrocketed by 93.8% (Hilliard 23). Clearly these former slaves saw the value of education and seized their opportunities to obtain it.

‍Charles D‍arwin’s discovery of evolution and the subsequent study achieved reported in the “Bell Curve” confirmed many of the old beliefs that African Americans were simply less capable than their white or Asian counterparts (Farr 2). Though this is emotionally heated to even discuss, researchers have focused energy on disproving these flawed theories. History notes strong empires, including Egypt, that have emerged and thrived in Africa through the intellect and motivation of its inhabitants (Hilliard 21). ‍Also studies have been conducted regarding the human development of African babies as compared with white babies and found the African babies advance in all methods of measure, both physical and verbal, at a more rapid rate than their white counterparts (Hilliard 28). Finally, history shows brilliant African Americans such as George Washington Carver, W.E.B. Dubois, and Martin Luther King have brought much to American society and more than prove the intellectual capacity of African Americans.

As these theories of lower ability have been disproven, environmental factors were taken into consideration for explaining the gaps between African Americans and whites in tests. Brown vs. Board of Education in the 1950’s strove to give equal access to education to all races in America, and subsequently Dr. Alvin Poussaint gave rise to more questions about racial equality in testing (Farr 1). Test fairness was challenged beginning in the late 60’s and early 70’s due to this push toward equality. Psychologists began studying the intelligence tests question by question and discovered that familiarity with subject content is critical to the test subject’s ability to answer it appropriately. Though this connection sounds innocuous enough, the discovery is fraught with cultural ramifications. Differences in income level provide children with vastly different lives. For instance, a question regarding washing machines given to students in the 1950’s would show a large gap in knowledge between socio-economic statuses, as well as races, since the two were inextricably linked in that time. In like manner, students whose young mothers had to work during their pre-school years might not recognize a middle aged woman holding an infant as a mother, but instead as a grandmother.

Another difference in cultures not to be avoided is linguistic in origin. The predominate language system used by African Americans has been a dialect known as Ebonics. As all intelligence and achievement tests are written in Standard English, this puts children brought up in homes where Ebonics is spoken at an automatic disadvantage. They are less familiar with the speech patterns of Standard English and would thereby score less effectively on verbal test questions. ‍For this reason‍ non-verbal sections have been added to the battery of intelligence tests (Davis 330).

In order to better measure intelligence, the International Test Commission set up guidelines regarding researching test materials to discover any cultural bias (Larros 2). The four aspects types of validity which deem a test question valid are: Content validity, Construct validity, Predictive validity, Consequential validity. Of the four, the focus of cultural bias is content validity (Schellenberg 7). In order for a question to be thrown out, it must not only be missed more by one cultural group. “The group’s performance on the item must be either better or worse than the group’s performance on the test as whole” (Schellenberg 8). In the mid 90’s, performance assessment began to be used to better measure student knowledge; however, this effort gave disappointing results. Because it required human judgment, it is expensive and also too subjective in grading (Schellenberg 13).

Test bias is one of the many factors that leads to the achievement gap that many African Americans experience. In addition, teacher choice for gifted programs impacts students, as well socio-economic status. While test bias went unnoticed for many years, testing companies have been making efforts to eliminate questions that are culturally biased. While this is the case, adding other components besides IQ tests to qualifying for giftedness is surely recommended.

REFERENCES
‍Davis, Gary A. Education of the Gifted and Talented 6th Edition. Pearson, New Jersey. 2011.
Farr, J. P. “Race and IQ, Heredity and Oppression.” The African Magazin e. February 1995.
Hilliard, Asa G. III. Alternatives to IQ Testing…” San Francisco State University. June 30, 1976.
Laros, Jacob. “Cultural bias in a nonverbal intelligence test…” University of Brazil. March 2004.
Schellenberg, Stephen. “Test Bias or Cultural Bias….” Symposium: “The Achievement Gap…” April 2004.

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