Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Testing Bias

I've recently heard in my education classes about the bias of the SAT/ACT and textbook materials, but didn't really understand until I started teaching in Ukraine.

These standardized tests are prejudiced against students who do not speak English as a primary language or are not familiar with American currency.

In the algebra 2 test, a problem referenced a girl with only nickels and dimes in her piggy bank. A few of my students needed to be reminded of the value of nickels and dimes. The book assumes that students in algebra 2 have used American currency all their lives, and expects that they have memorized the values. Not so for Third Culture Kids in Ukraine...they are more familiar with griven/kopecks than dollars/cents.

"You are enclosing a garden with prefabricated fencing you salvaged from a landfill. You found x pieces of fence that are each y feet long. What is the maximum rectangular area you can enclose with these pieces of fence?"

"Enclosing," "prefabricated," "salvaged," "landfill"--are these really everyday vocabulary words that a non-native speaker would understand? I think not. Could the test writers have chosen a different situation with easier vocabulary? Probably.

Just another day in the life of teaching math in Ukraine to students from* Europe, Asia, and America, with texts geared toward monocultural American students in America.

*From: meaning that's their passport country. They may identify more with Ukrainians or with each other--third culture kids.

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