Biased SATs?

I have a question that’s been in the news a few weeks ago. The NCAA ruled that SATs were culturally biased, and sought to lower the standards for athletes.

This is not the first time I’ve heard about culturally biased SATs, but I’ve failed to find one example of such a question. I’ve looked in magazine articles and the internet and all they say is “yes, it’s biased”.

“It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in an argument” - William McAdoo

Oh, the question:

Does anyone know of any examples of culturally biases questions?

“It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in an argument” - William McAdoo

I can’t remember if this was from the SATs - probably not, as it seems geared to a younger age group - but I do remember reading about one question that was pulled from some standardized test after numerous complaints about cultural bias.

Q. You go to the store for a loaf of bread, and the store is out of bread. What do you do?

The “correct” answer is “go to another store.” But many inner city children responded “go home” - which is what they actually WOULD do, but they were marked wrong for it.

IIRC many of the complaints about cultural bias had to do with specific words that the upper classes would simply have far more occasion to use than poor children. “Regatta” is the only one of these words that comes to mind at the moment, but I’m sure there are others.

Well, the culturally biased standardized tests are basically just an excuse to get undereducated kids into colleges for athletic or quota reasons. This is one of the big arguements for the need o teach and accept ebonics as a language, all in all quite ridiculous. You may recall that over half the test is math, verbal reasoning, and science that are totally objective culturally. The only topic of argument is the reading comprehension. They used to use fictional works and period pieces for reading that could use dated and culture specific terms. Now today this practice is practically banished and the bias is very small, they use scientific journal entries, non-fiction pieces and news clippings. These articles should be totaly objective. The only arguement is that the schools and parents of undereducated kids simply do not teach the level of curiculum that gives them a chance. Good schools have calculus, and high level vocabulary, where poor schools simply don’t teach those skills. Is this cultural bias? I don’t think so. The schools aren’t keeping up and in my opinion this shouldn’t be compensated for, but rather fixed. So when I hear about kids and worse school faculty bitching about bias, I imediately think the school is just looking for any excuse to explain why they aren’t doing their job well. Now I know the reasons for the shortcomings are vast, but the solution isn’t to lower the standards for colleges, but rather to raise them in the schools.

The facts expressed here belong to everybody, the opinions to me. The distinction is
yours to draw…

Omniscient; BAG

Here is an example of a biased question:
grain is to silo as car is to ___
(it goes something like that)
the answer is like garage? I think.
But someone who grew up in an urban environment would not necessarily know what a silo is, since it really would not be part of any curriculum.

That grain/silo argument is ludicrous. I grew up miles from any silo and I know what it is because i read occasionally. The SAT isnt a test for “personal experience” knowledge (i.e. knowing what a silo is because you’ve seen one). Its a test of book knowledge. Silo is a perfectly standard vocabulary word just as much as “overpass” (biased to the ruralites) or “pitchfork” (biased to urbanites) I even know what “regatta” means and I’ve never been on more than a rowboat and I certainly have no affiliation with the regatta crowd. If you’ve ever taken any standardized test you’ll notice that as the words get harder, you get words that NO-ONE uses in everyday speech. They are words you only might know from reading or education. I dont gripe if i get those wrong, I never complained that no-one in my home ever said “rococo” or “coterie”. Its just part of education. If you carry this argument forward then it would be unfair to test kids on american history because they never saw Abraham Lincoln or the civil war. Obviously if the test included “gefilte fish” it might be a problem but it clearly isnt that bad, and i think that if someone taking the SAT doesnt know what a silo is he/she deserves a low grade.

What are the chances of getting some comments from a black person, or someone from another minority culture, who went to public schools in a big city. I’d like to hear their thoughts.

I taught classes on taking GRE’s and other graduate exams at schools on the east coast. When teaching at Coppin State (a predominantly black school) I found that the students were significantly less prepared than other schools. A professor explained to me that the school accepts students with good grades from the city high schools but sometimes found that students in the top 10% of their highschool class were reading at a 3rd grade level. The university offered many remedial classes and I think does a great job of turning out a credible batch of graduates. This is not an easy task for the faculty. This was the hardest working faculty that I have witnessed. Students have to work extra-hard too.

Many of these students are the first generation of college students in their families. I ask help from my father on difficult problems even now that I am a professional. He should charge my company a consulting fee. He helped me through line integration in Calc III. Do I have an unfair cultural advantage?

If men had wings,
and bore black feathers,
few of them would be clever enough to be crows.

  • Rev. Henry Ward Beecher

how can we have culturaly biased questions when the test are, by default designed to rank people within the predominant (anglo) culture?

I don’t hear anybody complaining that the SAT is not available in Yiddish or Vietnamese versions.

Please define “anglo culture”.

“I think it would be a great idea” Mohandas Ghandi’s answer when asked what he thought of Western civilization

What are the chances of getting some comments from a black person, or someone from another minority culture, who went to public schools in a big city. I’d like to hear their thoughts.

The reason I asked the question is because it kind of sounds like a cop-out. I just wanted some examples before I took “cultural bias” at face value.

My wife is Filipina and emigrated from there when she was 12. Obviously, not being from here and having English as a second language, this should’ve put her at a distinct disadvantage.

She got a 1420 on her SAT.

The EEOC, the government agency that enforces Affirmative Action cases, claims that in tests for employment, a test is culturally biased if it can be shown that one race consistently performs better at it than another. In SATs, for instance, the average score among white Americans is significantly higher than the average score among African Americans. Therefore, according to the EEOC, the test is biased by definition. A number of companies have been successfully sued for using SATs for employment requirements.


Almost all tests are biased in one fashion or another. It takes some work to decide just how.

How about psychology tests like the MMPT? A question might be ‘Do people look at you when you are in a restaurant?.’ A deaf person signing in a restuarant gets a lot of that, so they would answer ‘yes’ thus bringing up their ‘paranoia’ score.

I don’t know if the SATs are culturally biased or not, but I do know that among many foreign students from e.g. India and other places, getting less than a perfect 1600 is considered a failure. Since Indian (etc) culture is quite different from US culture, it would seem possible to do well and still be from a different culture.

I teach the verbal section of SAT classes, and I am extremely hard pressed to think of a question that could be considered culturally biased.

The SAT I is basically a logic and vocabulary test. To say that someone doesn’t know the vocabulary and therefore the test is biased is to imply that everyone is exactly as qualified for every endevor everywhere. The purpose of the SAT I is to rank kids in their knowledge and reasoning skills coming into college. If we are going to make excuses for everyone that doesn’t know as much as someone else, we might as well do away with the scoring or admission process entirely.

Now, I’m probably even more aware of the problem of inner city schools that most of the people on this board, having taught in them. The parents never finished high school themselves, or dropped out of El Salvadoran elementary school, and don’t speak any English, etc. But recognizing the reasons behind a problem and making excuses are two different things.

There seems to be an attitude in America that if everyone is not considered to be exactly the same, there is something wrong. What should be true is that everyone is given the same opportunity to make it as far as they can. That’s where the responsibility of the schools comes. They need to be giving those kids the opportunity to learn. But what are the universities supposed to do? I applaud the one that was whipping into shape those third grade reading levels, but that’s not ever going to be the norm, although it’s possibly a model for fixing a lot of the problem.

This is going to sound funny, but I feel that the biggest problem is cultures being biased against the SAT. That is, the parents take no interest in their child’s education (the fourth grader I had that couldn’t read a word), they give no support to the teacher concerning things like discipline (“It’s a school problem. It’s your problem, teacher”), and the guys in the neighborhood constantly tease any guy that would actually behave himself in class and be interested in the work. There is a great amount of social pressure to not do well in school.

Yes, the SAT I is designed to test a student’s worldliness, if you want to put it that way. So I see no problem with testing urban kids on silos. And believe me, no one in the Asian families that we often work with would even think to make that kind of excuse. They would just learn it.

Immigrating from Germany (knowing only the English words “Mommy”, “Daddy”, “I love you”, and “Jail”) when I was ten, raised by a single mother with two other children, living in low-income housing and even being on food stamps (only one month), I still got a 1550 on my SAT.

I think the SAT Dave only measures what a person has learned in school. Deaf [Or other special] students learn a lot less because they can’t hear [assuming they don’t get an interpreter, which they often don’t] in school. Naturally they get lower scores on the test but that does not effect their

It should be called the white severely able body person’s test of what they learned in school.

The argument for the silo question is that most white people (even if you grew up MILES away). Why would any inner city youth know?? Would he read the farmer’s almanac? Or would he be naturally interested in farming?? I don’t think you can assume that ANY child would know what a silo is. You can assume that more rural children than urban would. Ask a child from a farm what it means to tag something. He would say it means to hit. An urban child would say it means to spray paint it. Many SAT questions can be answered from personal experience, and the argument is that rural youths have an edge because they can answer more questions as a result of their life experiences. Lower income youths are also less likely to travel, and (from personal experience) attend grade schools with poorer computer and library facilities. The SAT is not designed to test how much you have learned, it is supposed to predict your proficiency in acquiring a higher education.
If it was to test what you know, it should test for foreign language, science, physical education, history, etc. (more like the ACT)

OK, coming down off my high horse a bit, I will admit that the SAT I (and not SAT II, there is a distinct difference) is supposed to be a logic and mental ability test, and that it is not entirely what it claims to be. If it were I would have a much harder time coaching better scores. The verbal portion relies very heavily on the vocabulary. I can help teach vocabulary. I cannot teach entire patterns of thinking from the start. So obviously it is somewhat a knowledge test.

I also realize the effects of this discrepancy in what is said and what is done. When I taught in Compton, CA (home of such societal stars as NWA, etc), I had two fourth graders tested for the gifted program. They did not make it, even the one that would sometimes have the work done before I got through making sure all the kids understood the directions.

Being trapped in a rat hole neighborhood like that, there was no way they were going to get the chance to use their abilities to the full, if all they were going to be tested on amounted to their current knowledge base, and not their ability to learn. That’s what’s really important. Treyvon, part scourge of the classroom from boredom, part star student, had far and away the best ability to learn in the room. But not enough knowledge to make it “gifted.”

Prattling on, what really sucked in that school was the enforcement of an idea that had spread throughout the state, which was that “tracking,” or assigning classes based on ability, was racist and counterproductive.

Almost nothing could have been less productive than the system that was in use. If we had taken the whole grade and divided it up into ability classes, we could have made some progress, but no, I had pre-K ability through 5th grade ability, and was expected to teach 6 grade levels at once, to kids whose families many times regarded school as a place to take the kids off their hands and feed them.

Sorry for the rant.

I do appreciate the problem. But if anyone has any better ideas for say, Stanford, to use, let’s have them. Or should they admit everyone, regardless of their knowledge base, and have half the entering class flunk?

There are many reasons why kids don’t do well on these, and some of them just aren’t fair at all. They’re getting the shaft, no two ways about it. But as a university president, with a budget that is only covering giving a good education to the ones that are arriving with the ability to graduate, what do you propose to do different?

The problem seems to be with the schools, and dare I say it (you bet I dare, after meeting some of the parents I have), the parents.

Thanks for listening. We welcome relplies.

I didn’t want this thread to be an argument of the merits of cultural bias. I wanted some examples of questions that were considered culturally biased. Frankly, questions about silos and regatta have left me unimpressed. Words like silo and barn are fairly common and can be found in many picture books, even if you’ve never seen one in real life.

Most of the postings I’ve seen deal with economic bias, where poor people in cities (regardless of race) would have less access to computers, travelling, quality education, etc. Poor people in rural areas would also have that disadvantage, as would immigrants. That they score less on SATs may reflect those disadvantages, but that’s hardly a call for cultural bias.

While the ruling that college athletes must have at least a 700 may seem unfair, anyone who cannot get 1/3 of the questions right does not belong in a college classroom, regardless how well they dribble or run. It’s unfair to those athletes, of whom less than 3% make the pros.

“It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in an argument” - William McAdoo

HubZilla writes, “…college athletes … regardless how well they dribble or run.”

I’ve met some college athletes, and they definately do dribble. Mostly during meals and while talking :slight_smile:

But on a more serious note, I think the SATs are OK - they test what you’ve learned, and how well you’ve retained what you’ve learned - but that’s only so useful. I did pretty well on them way back when, but I was thinking the other day that if I retook them “cold” now, I doubt I’d do nearly as well. Yet I arguably know more now than I did when I took them! But the type of things I know has changed. I’ve forgotten a lot of “middle level” knowledge that I haven’t used since high school, like a lot of chemistry topics, say, but I’ve gained both shallow, broad level knowledge, and very deep but narrow knowledge in various technical areas. The SATs, IMHO, measure the “mid level” knowledge more than anything. They don’t measure the broad stuff, such as how much you know about the world’s major cultures, nor the deep stuff, such as numerical modeling of hypersonic flow around airfoils.

Someday just for grins I may have a go at re-taking the SAT and see what happens. Rumor also has it they’ve gotten easier over the years.

k0myers (won’t say just how many years it has been :slight_smile: