Three fallacies in the test bias debate

Jensen (1980, p. 370) encapsulated three errors commonly seen in the test bias debate. They are reproduced here for ease of reference:

There are three inadequate or improper concepts of test bias frequently seen in the literature. They should be laid to rest before explicating a scientifically defensible defini­tion of test bias. We can label these three inadequate concepts as (1) the egalitarian fallacy, (2) the culture-bound fallacy, and (3) the standardization fallacy.

Egalitarian Fallacy. This concept of test bias is based on the gratuitous assump­ tion that all human populations are essentially identical or equal in whatever trait or ability the test purports to measure. Therefore, any difference between populations in the distri­ bution of test scores (such as a difference in means, or standard deviations, or any other parameters of the distribution) is taken as evidence that the test is biased. The search for a less biased test, then, is guided by the criterion of minimizing or eliminating the statistical differences between groups. The perfectly nonbiased test, according to this definition, would reveal reliable individual differences but not reliable (i.e., statistically significant) group differences, with the exception, of course, of groups that were comprised of persons previously selected on the basis of their scores on the test in question (or on a closely related test).


Culture-bound Fallacy. This fallacy is based on the content validity (or face validity) of test items. A subjective judgment is made as to the degree to which particular test items are “ culture bound.” If a test contains items that someone (usually a critic of tests) has judged to be “ culture bound,” the test is declared to be culturally biased and hence unfair to some particular cultural group. The subjective criteria for judging one test item as more or less culture bound than another item are seldom clearly specified. Usually items that involve scholastic or “ bookish” vocabulary or knowledge or knowledge of the fine arts or items that reflect what are imagined to be the moral, ethical, or aesthetic values of the white middle class are judged to be culture bound and hence unfair to nonwhites and persons of low socioeconomic status.


Standardization Fallacy. This claims that, because a test was standardized on a given population, it is ipso facto biased or unfair when used in any other population. It is a popular criticism of tests that were originally standardized on the white population but came to be used with blacks as well, such as the Stanford-Binet and the earlier editions of the Wechsler tests. The fact that a test was standardized in one population, however, does not support the claim that the test is biased for members of another population. Such a claim must depend on other forms of evidence.