Cultural Bias in Standardized Testing

Instructor: Marquis Grant
This lesson will highlight cultural biases in standardized testing and its impact on minority student learning. A short quiz will follow to test your knowledge.

Cultural Biases and Standardized Testing

Standardized testing is probably the hottest topic in education right now. The term standardized testing refers to assessments or tests that are usually given at the end of the year to see if students made appropriate gains based on their grade level. Students who have received instruction all year long are expected to demonstrate their knowledge by answering questions related to the particular subject area (i.e. math, reading, science). Supporters of standardized assessments argue that these types of tests are needed in order to determine if teachers are providing students with quality instruction, and if students were able to understand key concepts from the instruction. If students are not able to demonstrate what they have learned during the school year, then educators need to find out why.

However, those who are against standardized testing say that these assessments are not fair to all children, especially children who are racially, culturally, ethnically or linguistically diverse. As opponents see it, these students do not have an equal opportunity to achieve when it comes to test taking, because of the prior knowledge, family or language style differences these students bring to the testing environment. Statistics show that because of these differences these students are likely to not have performed well in their subject area classes and are even less likely to perform at grade-level on the end-of-the-year standardized tests.

What is Cultural Bias?

Cultural bias is an expression that means certain cultures are not given an equal chance to succeed in society because of an unfairness, prejudice or partiality. Cultural biases involve practices and procedures that put some minority groups at a disadvantage. In the case of public school systems, minority children have historically faced a greater likelihood of performing poorly on state tests than their non-minority classmates because such tests are usually written by people who are not of the minority status.

In the past, traditional school curriculum and school testing focused primarily on the ideas and principles that had been a part of the American school system since colonial times. Little thought was given to minority perspectives, and all students were expected to learn under the principle of the one-size-fits-all approach. As minority student populations increased in the classroom, the focus began to shift away from the one-size-fits-all approach and turned to a more diverse way to educate all students.

Student Performance

As more diverse students enter schools across the country, the issue of cultural bias is becoming more concerning. As it stands, it has been widely reported that African American and Hispanic students have the lowest scores on standardized tests, with African American students have the lowest levels of performance reported followed by Hispanic students . Many of these students do not show proficiency or grade-level ability in the areas of reading and math.

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