Saturday, June 19, 2010

SAT Bias Against Blacks

Independent researchers Maria Veronica Santelices and Mark Wilson recently assert that "...the SAT, a high-stakes test with significant consequences for the educational opportunities available to young people in the United States, favors one ethnic group over another. Neither the specifics of the method used to study differential item functioning nor the date of the test analyzed invalidate Freedle's claims that the SAT treats African American minorities unfairly."

In 2003, Roy O. Freedle, then a retired research psychologist, first made the nation aware of the bias. The irony of Freedle's assessment was that he was retired from the Educational Testing Service (ETS), owners of the SAT.

Apparently he was roundly criticized by his former bosses for his position on the SAT at the time.

With the independent research of Santelices and Wilson confirming his work with respect to African American students, perhaps now more research will be undertaken to identify and understand the causes for the bias.

Regarding cause, Santelices and Wilson state that "We do not know if Freedle's (2003) hypothesis about cultural and linguistic differences, which was based on the work of Diaz-Guerrero and Szalay (1991), is driving the result or whether the systematic relationship between DIF and item difficulty is explained by some other cause. Our methodology also does not allow us to explain why there is White/African American DIF and not White/Hispanic DIF."

The trailing question now is what should the black community do with these new findings?

Should some powerful organization institute litigation to stop critical educational decisions from being made based on the faulty test?

Or should we work harder than ever to instill a competitive instinct into black students. Should we teach our students the absolute requirement to read widely and learn to write with power and clarity. Should we stress also the advantages of speaking standard English and doing your very best in school no matter what biases are found in instruments that purport to measure knowledge and predict future achievement?

I suggest we do both.

A defective test should be corrected immediately and not used to further disadvantage those already behind the curve.

But, as a community, we should not rest one second from pursuing known techniques for achieving academic excellence. If we do not create a "culture" that values doing well in school and achieving at the highest levels, correcting a defective test will not put food on the table.

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