A culture-fair test is any assessment instrument that is not biased in favor of a particular culture, insofar as that is possible to create. A culture-fair test provides an accurate assessment of knowledge or ability, rather than knowledge or experience with a specific culture.
Culture-fair tests, also called culture-free tests, are designed to provide accurate assessment of the criterion or target concept(s) without favoring knowledge of any one culture. It is designed to eliminate bias or disadvantage regarding socioeconomic status, language written or spoken, or cultural experiences. A truly culture-free test would likely not rely on verbal or reading abilities.
In an effort to achieve parity with already highly reliable, well-validated and extensively normed instruments, teams of experts may be employed to provide accurate and detailed translation into additional languages, ascertaining that examples, directions, and word problems reflect the culture of the language into which the test has been translated. To retain reliability and validity, the instrument must be normed in the language of translation.
The first culture-fair test, called Army Examination Beta, was developed by the United States military during World War II (1939–45) to screen soldiers of average intelligence who were illiterate or for whom English was a second language. Beginning in the postwar period, culture-fair tests, which rely largely on nonverbal items and tasks, have been used in public schools with Spanish-speaking-only students and other non-native-English speakers whose lack of familiarity with both English language and American culture render it impossible to accurately assess cognitive functioning using standard IQ tests.
Culture-fair tests frequently administered toward the end of the twentieth century included the Learning Potential Assessment Device (LPAD), the Culture-Free Self-Esteem Inventories, and the Cattell Culture Fair Intelligence Test, 3rd edition (CFIT III). Those tests are rarely utilized now because they failed to measure what they intended; they lacked construct validity.
Culture-fair testing remains a controversial issue given current debate over bias in curriculum development and implementation, as well as use of intelligence and educational testing; it affects not only students for whom English is not the primary language, but also students who can speak and write English but are unfamiliar with average middleclass cultural norms. Bias in intelligence testing has a lengthy historical precedent. Early tests may have been designed to exclude Southern and Eastern European immigrants from admission to the United States on grounds of mental inferiority. Critics of allegedly culture-free tests claim that they discriminate against socioeconomic and cultural minorities in similar ways by calling for various types of knowledge inaccessible to those outside the white middle-class culture.
To dramatize the discriminatory nature of most intelligence testing, in 1972 Professor Robert L. Williams (1930–) devised the Black Intelligence Test of Cultural Homogeneity. This assessment required a command of vocabulary items widely known among urban, often poorly educated African-Americans of lower socioeconomic status but unfamiliar to most middle-class Caucasians (such as ‘do rag’ and ‘four corners’). It also tested knowledge of black history and culture (“Who wrote the Negro National Anthem?” ). Williams claimed that the difficulties faced by whites when taking this test were comparable to those confronting many African-Americans taking standardized IQ tests. This research project and the resultant test were created at a time when most standardized tests were normed nearly exclusively on Caucasian, middle to upper-middle class, well-educated subjects.
Critics of standardized tests, common core standards, and curricula developed specifically to teach for increased test performance claim that students can underperform for more reasons than just unfamiliarity with specific facts. A pervasive negative attitude toward such tests may give children from minority groups less motivation than majority-culture students to perform well, especially when combined with low levels of trust in or identification with the individuals administering the test. In addition, students from outside the majority culture may be more likely to interpret and answer questions in ways that differ from the prescribed answer. In educational psychology, this is referred to as divergent thinking; it affects students at both ends of the cultural, economic, and cognitive efficiency spectrum.
While some research suggests that culture-fair tests may reduce differences in performance between middle class, well-educated, highly motivated Caucasian students and all other groups, these assessments have proven less accurate than standard tests in predicting success in school.
See also Acculturation ; Cross-cultural psychology ; Divergent thinking ; Ethnocentrism ; Prejudice and discrimination .
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