In a perfect world, no standardized test should be biased. The whole reason standardized tests exist is to ideally measure knowledge and/or potential without bias. Even so, standardized tests like the ACT are not infallible. Biased human beings write the questions and grade the ACT Writing Test. It doesn’t mean they’re bad people or racist; it just means they’re human.
Yet is the ACT biased in any way that could affect your final composite score? Let’s take a look into the standardized testing world to find out.
What are some examples of bias?
If we are going to figure out if the ACT is biased, we need to understand previous examples of bias on standardized, high-stakes tests. A 2010 article from Inside Higher Ed suggested that the SAT was biased against African American students. The author came to this conclusion after researching two different studies that showed African American students scored lower than white students, even when both groups had identical socioeconomic backgrounds.
Though the report was unable to say which part(s) of the SAT might be biased, it shows that despite the College Board’s best efforts, some of its questions might favor white students. It is unknown whether the 2016 version of the SAT addresses these concerns, or widens the gap between different groups of students.
What about the ACT?
Despite my best efforts as a researcher, I was unable to find a similar study about the ACT. That doesn’t mean the ACT isn’t (or is) biased.
Here are a few claims commonly made against the ACT (as well as other standardized tests), which may or may not be substantiated. These are not our claims:
- The ACT favors males over females.
- As a timed test, the ACT favors males because of males’ heightened propensity towards risk taking; males are more likely to guess on a question, thus saving time.
- The ACT favors students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds.
- Students, no matter their race, perform better than their peers if they grew up with access to varied educational opportunities outside the classroom (Ex: books in the home, internet access, tutors etc.)
- ACT results are used in a biased way by colleges and scholarships.
There is no giant conspiracy in the standardized testing world. Working as an educator, I saw the lengths to which test developers went to ensure the integrity and security of their tests. Even so, keeping standardized tests accountable is a responsibility shared by everyone in the education field, even students. And there certainly may be work to do.
That’s all for now, ACT scholars. Back to your study plans, and best of luck on the ACT!