Culture-Fair Testing Essay

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Culture-fair testing, also known as culture-free testing and unbiased testing, has as its purpose the elimination of cultural bias in performance-based assessments for culturally and linguistically diverse populations. Culture-fair tests are designed to be culturally impartial and to ensure that groups and individuals of one culture have no advantage over those of another culture in the assessment process, that is, standardized measures of assessing IQ. Culture-fair testing is commonly used with non-English speakers, both nationally and internationally.

These concepts are based on utilizing measurements with content that are presumed to be common across diverse cultures, a sort of universal measurement. Culture-fair testing was developed to equally measure all participants regardless of their verbal fluency, cultural climate, and education level. This entry discusses how cultural testing came about and what it does.


Culture-fair tests were first developed prior to World War I to assess the ability levels of immigrants and non-English speakers. Soon after, culture-free testing started to evolve to assess multiple intelligences (e.g., adaptable abilities, constant abilities). The concept of culture-fair testing was brought to the attention of the research community and the general public in the late 1960s and early 1970s during the civil rights movement, when cultural, racial/ethnic, and gender rights were the focus of much national concern. Currently, there is only limited research on the use and implications of this type of assessment for individuals from diverse backgrounds. However, the literature does highlight the biases of assessment/testing as evidenced by the rise in popularity of portfolio and curriculum based measurement in schools.

Today, there is serious debate on the issues of current assessments and their appropriateness for all students, and culture-fair testing has gained popularity across fields of study (e.g., sociology, anthropology, psychology, and many of the behavioral sciences). Culture-fair testing has been proposed in many of these fields to help students deconstruct the unjustified and unfair notions of racial and cultural identity. For example, in the field of special education, the deconstruction of biases by race/ethnicity and culture is vital because of the current and historical disproportionate representation of diverse students in categories of learning disabilities and behavioral disorders.

Traditional Intelligence Tests

Proponents of culture-fair testing take issue with the standardized measures that have typically been used to assess academic success and the measurement of IQ. They believe IQ tests are culturally biased, putting culturally and linguistically diverse students at a disadvantage compared with their European American peers. They further assert that traditional aptitude assessments or IQ tests simply assess students’ abilities to understand and apply knowledge of the dominant culture, not students’ true abilities, intelligence, and multiple intelligences. As a part of this argument, James W. Vander Zanden maintained that IQ tests measure only recipients’ cultural exposures. However, opponents of culture-fair testing contend that it is just as biased and no more reliable than traditional testing and assessments. They maintain that because of the varying complexity and the revolving characteristics of culture, no test or assessment can truly be unbiased.

Types Of Culture-Fair Tests

There are two types of culture-fair tests. The first type does not examine verbal intelligence. In fact, it removes all verbal questions and consists instead of questions intended to avoid bias based on socioeconomic or cultural background. The second type of culture-fair test is a system of multicultural pluralistic assessments (SOMPA). This type of test examines both verbal and nonverbal intelligence in addition to social adjustment to school and physical health while taking into account an individual’s socioeconomic background.

Within the two types of culture-fair tests, there are a variety of tests that have been created to assess individuals from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. For example, some tests have been specifically designed to assess and measure African Americans’ academic success and IQ. The Dove Counterbalance General Intelligence Test was developed in 1968 to show the fundamental differences in speech patterns of African Americans and their European American peers. The Black Intelligence Test of Cultural Homogeneity was developed in 1972 by Robert L. Williams to assess the intelligence of African Americans. The test uses vocabulary common to the vernacular of some African Americans. Another test focuses on assessment of IQ of persons and groups from Hispanic backgrounds. The Australian-American Intelligence Test was based on a test first introduced in the late 1960s and early 1970s to assesses IQ in the Aboriginal culture of North Queensland.

Whether culture-fair testing can be truly fair or free from culture bias is open to debate. It does represent an important attempt to provide an assessment tool that will eliminate cultural bias for persons from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds that may be found in more common performance-based assessments.


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