Much writing and research on test bias reflects a lack of understanding of important issues surrounding the subject and even inadequate and ill-defined conceptions of test bias itself. This chapter of the Handbook of Assessment Psychology provides an understanding of ability test bias, particularly cultural bias, distinguishing it from concepts and issues with which it is often conflated and examining the widespread assumption that a mean difference constitutes bias. The topics addressed include possible origins, sources, and effects of test bias. Following a review of relevant research and its results, the chapter concludes with an examination of issues suggested by the review and with recommendations for researchers and clinicians.
Few issues in psychological assessment today are as polarizing among clinicians and laypeople as the use of standardized tests with minority examinees. For clients, parents, and clinicians, the central issue is one of long-term consequences that may occur when mean test results differ from one ethnic group to another—Blacks, Hispanics, Asian Americans, and so forth. Important concerns include, among others, that psychiatric clients may be overdiagnosed, students disproportionately placed in special classes, and applicants unfairly denied employment or college admission because of purported bias in standardized tests.
Among researchers, also, polarization is common. Here, too, observed mean score differences among ethnic groups are fueling the controversy, but in a different way. Alternative explanations of these differences seem to give shape to the conflict. Reynolds (2000a, 2000b) divides the most common explanations into four categories: (a) genetic influences; (b) environmental factors involving economic, social, and educational deprivation; (c) an interactive effect of genes and environment; and (d) biased tests that systematically un-derrepresent minorities' true aptitudes or abilities. The last two of these explanations have drawn the most attention. Williams (1970) and Helms (1992) proposed a fifth interpretation of differences between Black and White examinees: The two groups have qualitatively different cognitive structures, which must be measured using different methods (Reynolds, 2000b).
The problem of cultural bias in mental tests has drawn controversy since the early 1900s, when Binet's first intelligence scale was published and Stern introduced procedures for testing intelligence (Binet & Simon, 1916/1973; Stern, 1914). The conflict is in no way limited to cognitive ability tests, but the so-called IQ controversy has attracted most of the public attention. A number of authors have published works on the subject that quickly became controversial (Gould, 1981; Herrnstein & Murray, 1994; Jensen, 1969). IQ tests have gone to court, provoked legislation, and taken thrashings from the popular media (Reynolds, 2000a; Brown, Reynolds, & Whitaker, 1999). In New York, the conflict has culminated in laws known as truth-in-testing legislation, which some clinicians say interferes with professional practice.
In statistics, bias refers to systematic error in the estimation of a value. A biased test is one that systematically overestimates or underestimates the value of the variable it is intended to assess. If this bias occurs as a function of a nominal cultural variable, such as ethnicity or gender, cultural test bias is said to be present. On the Wechsler series of intelligence tests, for example, the difference in mean scores for Black and White Americans hovers around 15 points. If this figure represents a true difference between the two groups, the tests are not biased. If, however, the difference is due to systematic underestimation of the intelligence of Black Americans or overestimation of the intelligence of White Americans, the tests are said to be culturally biased.
Many researchers have investigated possible bias in intelligence tests, with inconsistent results. The question of test bias remained chiefly within the purlieu of scientists until the 1970s. Since then, it has become a major social issue, touching off heated public debate (e.g., Editorial, Austin-American Statesman, October 15, 1997; Fine, 1975). Many professionals and professional associations have taken strong stands on the question.
these tests with disadvantaged students (see the committee's report, Cleary, Humphreys, Kendrick, & Wesman, 1975).
The ABP published the following policy statement in 1969 (Williams et al., 1980):
The Association of Black Psychologists fully supports those parents who have chosen to defend their rights by refusing to allow their children and themselves to be subjected to achievement, intelligence, aptitude, and performance tests, which have been and are being used to (a) label Black people as uneducable; (b) place Black children in "special" classes and schools; (c) potentiate inferior education; (d) assign Black children to lower educational tracks than whites; (e) deny Black students higher educational opportunities; and (f) destroy positive intellectual growth and development of Black children.
Subsequently, other professional associations issued policy statements on testing. Williams et al. (1980) and Reynolds, Lowe, and Saenz (1999) cited the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Education Association, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the American Personnel and Guidance Association, among others, as organizations releasing such statements.
The ABP, perhaps motivated by action and encouragement on the part of the NAACP, adopted a more detailed resolution in 1974. The resolution described, in part, these goals of the ABP: (a) a halt to the standardized testing of Black people until culture-specific tests are made available, (b) a national policy of testing by competent assessors of an examinee's own ethnicity at his or her mandate, (c) removal of standardized test results from the records of Black students and employees, and (d) a return to regular programs of Black students inappropriately diagnosed and placed in special education classes (Williams et al., 1980). This statement presupposes that flaws in standardized tests are responsible for the unequal test results of Black examinees, and, with them, any detrimental consequences of those results.
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