Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Been Thinking About...

Dr. Joshua Aronson, an associate professor at NYU Steinhart, was the keynote speaker at our last Iowa Educational Research and Evaluation Association (IEREA) conference, and I have been thinking about what he said ever since.

From his address, it is fair to say that Dr. Aronson does not believe that what psychometricians and test builders do to eliminate potential bias works. Rather, he talks about a bias that he labels "stereotype threat." That is, the elimination of stereotypes and biases is not enough—as long as the examinee thinks there might be bias, they behave as if there were bias. Dr. Aronson provided the following quote:

"I knew I was just as intelligent as everyone else...but for some
reason I didn't score well on tests. Maybe I was just nervous. There's
a lot of pressure on you, knowing that if you fail, you fail your race."

–Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis

In experimental settings, Dr. Aronson and his colleagues have shown that when stereotype threat is present, minority students underperform relative to when stereotype threat is not present. For example, African-American students doubled their performance solving problems on verbal tasks when they were not asked to indicate their race. When they were asked to provide their race, their performance was cut in half!

As measurement experts, we are diligent regarding our procedures to make assessments fair. We need to keep thinking about ways we can improve.

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