IQ Testing In Cultural Context

Moss Crutchfield Saint Leo Universit y COL

IQ Testing In Cultural Context

2 Abstract

Disparities exist in the IQ test scores of people from varying cultures, exposing the strengths and weakness of such assessments. While used as a means of predicting future success, there is a distinct bias for the dominant culture in which the exams are given. This has been recognized in both academia and popular culture, and several attempts to create culture-specific testing has been created. What may be called for is simply greater sensitivity to the language, idioms, and symbols of all participants.

IQ Testing In Cultural Context

3

Since the beginning of its self-awareness, humanity has sought to find a means of defining its own intelligence. As part of that definition, we have sought to catalogue our own unique place in thisrelativisticspectrum by means of an empirical scale. While this has some advantages, such as definition of our cognitive abilities or a possible means of predicting future social, academic, and economic success, it also has some serious drawbacks related to culturalethnocentrism and socioeconomic advantage.

It is said that history is written by the victors, and so too are the assessment tests.The dominant culture which directs a society¶s educational systemsautomatically leaves subcultures marginalized and impaired. Disparities exist in the methods of testing because no one test can encompass the cultural language and symbols, much less the cognitive style, of more than one particular society without seeming disjointed and chaotic. One of the inherent flaws ofIQ testing is that the very language of intelligence testing is linked to that of the authors, and so will transmit particular benefit to those of particular ethnicities.(Pearson Learning Solutions, p. 155) There has been some recent effort to write IQ tests with specific cultural references in mind, thus recognizing a need for the importance of cultural context. For instance, intelligence tests can be easily found written specifically for indigenous tribesman of Australia or AfricanAmericans.(Neill, 2002) This new emphasis on cultural awareness and the importance of context in standardized tests is encouraging, though none of these tests can accurately measure all aspects of human cognition, such as wisdom, creativity, or common sense. (Pearson Learning Solutions, p. 153)It has not been conclusively shown that racial groups differ in overall intelligence, but that the disparity lies in how we assess intelligence.

IQ Testing In Cultural Context

4

Complaints of unfair racial and cultural bias are nothing new. In the mid-seventies, the TV show ³Good Times´ - an important marker for the black subculture of its time -dedicated an entire episode to the inequalities of intelligence testing. The character Michael Evans scores surprisingly low on a standardized test, even though he possesses a keen intelligence, and this leads him to feel that his once promising future has now been closed off. Michaellaments that one of the test¶s questions uses the idea of a multi-bedroom house to pose an algebraic question. He asks, ³How many kids in the ghetto are going to know what a guest bedroom is? (CBS Entertainment, 2011)In answer to this seeming betrayal of the black culture¶s intelligence, the showcites a ³Black I.Q. test´. In the early nineteen-seventies,Dr. Williams wrote his Black Intelligence Test in Cultural Homogeneity, a deliberately satirical effort to illustrate the ³obvious´ bias of Euro-American testsby targeting the familiar culture of inner-city youth, using the vernacular, idioms, and history of the black subculture of the 1970¶s. American students of European descent, not surprisingly, did very poorly on these tests while African American children scored very high, illustrating a reversal of current testing results.(Mitchell & Salisbury, 1999)

In The Nature of Cognition, Robert Sternberg (1999) proposes that ³the notion of culture-free intelligence [testing] is a contradiction in terms´.(p. 655)It is his assertion that intelligence testing and cultural bias are hopelessly intertwined since tests of any kind would inevitablyincorporate the language and symbols of its authors. As a compelling thought experiment, Sternberg(1999) proposes that had Binet been West African, modern testing would pose such questions as the names of various leaves or the oral recitation of personal family

IQ Testing In Cultural Context

5

histories.(p. 662)Such things are almost unknown in American culture, as even seasoned Boy Scouts aren¶t likely to know more than a few arboreal species by sight and many children rarely see their grandparents more than a few times a year, if at all, whereas West African children are raised in an interdependent culture where several generations all live in the same house and recite long genealogies in honor of ancestral knowledge. In American culture, it islikely quite rare that any, adult or child, could name even one of their great-great-grandparents.

The result is clear: the only way an intelligence test can be considered to have any validity or applicability it must be administered within the purview of its own cultural context. This also means, however, thatthere can be no cross-cultural comparisons made in regards to an empirical number scale, though relative scales might be useful and helpful in determining comparative intelligence. It would be fallacious in the extreme, if not outright racist and short-sighted, to suggest that ethnic lines carry with them certain intellectual disadvantages since intelligence can be defined by such varied terms. While I.Q. testing carries with it some distinct advantages, especially in regards to helping our youth find their potential, it also has distinct disadvantage, namely a blind-spot for those of other ethnicities. Assessment of these test scores would seem to require a little cultural intelligence.

IQ Testing In Cultural Context

6

Works Cited
CBS Entertainment. (2011). Good Times - The I.Q. Test . Retrieved March 22, 2011, from tv.com: http://www.tv.com/video/10520001/good-times--the-i.q.-test Neill, J. (2002, 12 4). Cultural Bias in Intelligence Testing. Retrieved 03 24, 2011, from wilderdom.com: http://wilderdom.com/personality/intelligenceCulturalBias.html Mitchell, B. M., & Salisbury, R. E. (1999). Encyclopedia of Multicultural Education. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. Pearson Learning Solutions. (2010). Looking At Us. Boston, MA: Pearson Learning Systems. Sternberg, R. J. (1999). The Nature of Cognition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Special offer for students: Only $4.99/month.

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Cancel anytime.