Notes on Culture-free and Culture-fair Intelligence Tests

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Most intelligence tests, particularly those having language elements, have a cultural component in them. Some tests are language-free tests. The test administrator uses gestures, demonstrations, or signs to elicit subjects’ responses.

For example, items requiring subjects to trace mazes find the missing portion in the picture or pattern, choose the right shapes for the right holes etc. have less language elements. Anastasi (1988) provides an example: a group of Asian immigrant children in Israel were asked to name the missing part of a face.

The face was having no mouth. The Asian children instead told that the face was without a body. They were not accustomed to consider a picture of a face without a mouth. Therefore it is almost an impossibility to design a culture-free test devoid of all culture-related content. Instead, psychologists have tried to develop tests that can be considered culture-fair, or culture-reduced, where the influence of cultural elements is reduced.

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Culture-fair tests were developed to reduce cultural bias. There are two types of culture-fair tests. The first type contains the items that are assumed to be known to individuals from all socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. For instance, a child might be asked, “How a bird and a dog are different?”

Here the experimenter assumes that all children have the knowledge of dogs and birds. The second kind of culture-fair tests do not have any verbal items. A sample of Raven’s Progressive Matrices (RPM) test is an example. It is regarded as a culture-fair test of intelligence. But it is noticed that educated individuals obtain higher scores on the RPM than the less educated people.

Another test, which is considered to be culture-fair, is SOMPA, i.e., System of Multicultural Pluralistic Assessment (Mercer and Lewis, 1978).

It is meant for 5 to 11 year-old children belonging to low-income families, it covers information on four different areas of child’s environment, such as (a) verbal and non-verbal intelligence in the traditional mould of WISC-R, (b) parent s interview about social and economic background, (c) evaluation of an adaptive behavior-inventory on social adjustment to school to be completed by parents, and (d) physical health examined by medical tests.

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The Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children (K-ABC) developed by Kaufman (1983) is another culture-fair test meant for children from two to twelve and half years of age. This test has taken into account representative samples of minority, and handicapped children. It focuses less on language than the Stanford-Binet, and its achievement portion includes problems in arithmetic and reading. But like other culture-fair tests, it has its limitations also.

Constructing a truly culture-fair intelligence test has been difficult. There are a number of reasons. For example, people of Papua, New Guinea have the ability to remember names of about 10,000 to 20,000 clans. On the other hand, people of Carolina Islands can sail in the sea by the stars without and instruments of navigation. Thus, a culture-fair test is difficult to construct taking in to account all possible cultural and ethnic variations across the world.

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