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Testing Bias, Cultural Bias & Language Differences in Assessments

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  1. 0:05 Introduction to Test Bias
  2. 0:52 Cultural Bias
  3. 1:28 Types of Test Bias
  4. 4:02 Language Differences and Test Bias
  5. 4:28 Bias and Test-Taker Differences
  6. 5:45 Lesson Summary
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Taught by

Melissa Hurst

Assessments are used to gain useful information about test-takers' knowledge, skills and progress. Sometimes, however, the results of these assessments are incorrect due to biases. This lesson will differentiate and discuss types of testing bias and differences among test-takers that may lead to testing bias.

Introduction to Test Bias

School Principal: 'How can this be? These test scores range from well below average to excellent for one grade! These scores can't possibly be right. Maybe something happened during the administration of the test. Or maybe the test itself is flawed. I need to research what happened.'

A test that yields clear and systematic differences among the results of the test-takers is biased. Typically, test biases are based on group membership of the test-takers, such as gender, race and ethnicity.

'Yes, it looks like the scores of some students were much lower than the scores for others. Also, I see a difference between ethnicity groups, too! This test must have some sort of bias.'

Cultural Bias

A test is not considered biased simply because some students score higher than others. A test is considered biased when the scores of one group are significantly different and have higher predictive validity, which is the extent to which a score on an assessment predicts future performance, than another group.

Most test biases are considered cultural bias. Cultural bias is the extent to which a test offends or penalizes some students based on their ethnicity, gender or socioeconomic status.

Types of Test Bias

Researchers have identified multiple types of test bias that affect the accuracy and usability of the test results.

Construct Bias

First is construct bias. Construct bias occurs when the construct measured yields significantly different results for test-takers from the original culture for which the test was developed and test-takers from a new culture. A construct refers to an internal trait that cannot be directly observed but must be inferred from consistent behavior observed in people. Self-esteem, intelligence and motivation are all examples of a construct.

Basing an intelligence test on items from American culture would create bias against test-takers from another culture.

Method Bias

Another type of testing bias is method bias. Method bias refers to factors surrounding the administration of the test that may impact the results.

The testing environment, length of test and assistance provided by the teacher administrating the test are all factors that may lead to method bias. For example, if a student from one culture is used to, and expects to, receive assistance on standardized tests, but is faced with a situation in which the teacher is unable to provide any guidance, this may lead to inaccurate test results.

Additionally, if the test-taker is used to a more relaxed testing environment, such as one that includes moving around the room freely and taking breaks, then an American style of standardized testing administration, where students are expected to sit quietly and work until completion, is likely to cause difficulty in performance. Again, this could yield results that may be an inaccurate representation of that student's knowledge.

Item Bias

The next type of bias is item bias. Item Bias refers to problems that occur with individual items on the assessment. These biases may occur because of poor use of grammar, choice of cultural phrases and poorly written assessment items.

For example, the use of phrases, such as 'bury the hatchet' to indicate making peace with someone or 'the last straw' to indicate the thing that makes one lose control, in test items would be difficult for a test-taker from a different culture to interpret. The incorrect interpretation of culturally biased phrases within test items would lead to inaccurate test results.

Language Differences and Test Bias

In addition to biases within the test itself, language differences also affect performance on standardized testing, which causes bias against non-native English test-takers. Non-native English test-takers may struggle with reading comprehension, which hinders their ability to understand questions and answers. They may also struggle with writing samples, which are intended to assess writing ability and levels.

Bias and Test-Taker Differences

Biases in testing also occur due to social, cognitive and behavioral differences among test-takers. Test-takers with cognitive or academic difficulties will often:

  • Have poor listening, reading and writing skills
  • Perform inconsistently on tests due to off-task behaviors, such as daydreaming and doodling
  • Have higher than average test anxiety

Test-takers with social or behavioral difficulties will often:

  • Perform inconsistently on tests due to off-task behaviors
  • Have lower than average motivation for testing

Test-takers with delays in cognitive processing will often:

  • Have slow learning and cognitive processing
  • Have limited reading and writing skills
  • Have poor listening skills

Finally, test-takers with physical or sensory challenges will often:

  • Have a tendency to get tired during a test
  • Have less developed language skills
  • Have poor listening skills
  • Have slower learning and cognitive processing skills

Educators should account for individual differences among test-takers when administering tests and using results to predict future performance and success.

Lesson Summary

School Principal: 'Wow. There are many factors to consider when looking at test bias. I can clearly see that there are significant differences among my test-takers, which means the test is biased. I know there are examples of construct bias, because the scores of our non-native English students were significantly different than native-English. There may have been method bias, due to the administration of the test. And I know there was item bias, because the test uses colloquial phrases, such as 'bury the hatchet,' within the items.

I know now we should account for language differences among the test-takers and also consider social, cognitive and behavioral differences, as those may lead to test bias.'

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