ERIC Identifier: ED296813
Publication Date: 1988-03-00
Author: Brescia, William - Fortune, Jim C.
Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools Las Cruces NM.
Standardized Testing of American Indian Students. ERIC Digest.
Testing students from backgrounds different from the culture in which the
test was developed magnifies the probability of invalid results. In addition to
the limits of test theory and the constraints associated with a given test, the
test administrator is faced with several potential sources of error arising from
the differences among the two cultures. These include lack of compatibility of
the languages, differences in the experiential backgrounds of the students being
tested from those for whom the test was developed, and differences in affective
dispositions toward handling testing environments between the groups of
The testing of many American Indian children using exams developed for the
majority American society represents a case of cross-cultural testing which is
likely to produce invalid results in the form of underestimation of student
performance. This digest discusses limitations of the use of standardized tests
with many American Indian students and delineates sources and consequences of
invalid test results ensuing from the administration of standardized tests to
unacculturated American Indian students.
APPLICATION OF STANDARDIZED TESTING TO AMERICAN INDIAN EDUCATION USE OF
Standardized test scores are used to make decisions about programs and
individuals. The primary uses of tests to make program decisions involve the use
of ability tests in program design and the use of achievement tests in program
Several types of tests are used to make decisions about individuals.
Aptitude, ability, and intelligence tests are used primarily to help decide
selection and placement or to provide feedback to the test-taker concerning his
or her capability. Achievement tests may be used in four ways to make decisions
about individuals: as a survey of attainment in a content area, as a diagnostic
instrument to identify individual strengths and weaknesses in a content area, as
a readiness indicator to determine if an individual has attained prerequisites
to continue study in a given content area, and as a performance test to estimate
the degree of learning of a body of content.
LIMITATIONS OF USE
Generally, when standardized tests are used with American Indian students (on
the reservation or in settings with low levels of acculturation) and produce
invalid results, the tests usually produce lower or less desirable scores for
the Indian test-taker. These score variations are not readily explained by
program related factors nor by correlates of test performance which are
frequently found in other situations.
In program-related decisions, the underestimation of Indian performance on
ability tests may result in the development of an inefficient program design.
Underestimation on achievement tests may result in the demise or modification of
what in reality is an effective program.
In test-based decisions concerning American Indian students, underestimation
can do grave harm to the individual. In both selection and placement the Indian
student can be denied opportunity, can be relegated to low-paying work or
unemployment or can be placed in a program that is too easy or boring. As
feedback, the test results can do harm to the self-esteem and confidence of the
Indian student, sometimes resulting in the student giving up or dropping out.
With regard to the interpretation of achievement test results, false conclusions
concerning the Indian student may lead to teacher allegations of laziness,
disinterest, or stupidity. Underestimation may result in the student not being
promoted to advanced levels of instruction, being placed in low-achieving
groups, or having to do unnecessary remedial work.
SOURCES OF TEST UNDERESTIMATION
It should be recognized that American Indian tribes embrace a wide range of
cultural differences. Treating American Indians as a collective group,
regardless of tribe, is the same error of consideration as testing Indian
students with standardized tests that have less than three percent Indian
students in the norming sample. Uniform research results across tribes are
simply nonexistent. Nevertheless, bias found in test scores of one tribe likely
exists for several other tribes. A source of underestimation documented for one
tribe should in fact be considered as a potential source of underestimation for
other tribes until research indicates the contrary for a given tribe.
Underestimation in the standardized testing of American Indian students may
have several different sources. These include students not exhibiting behaviors
required for successful test-taking; students not reading the questions
accurately; students not having the assumed experience or cognitive structure to
respond to certain items; and students lacking the opportunity to practice key
behaviors required by the test. Each of these behavior patterns of Indian
students in the testing situation reflects cultural differences.
The factors that influence Indian test scores, usually considered forms of
bias, are well-documented. If only one of the unsuccessful test-taking behaviors
could be tracked systematically, then a methodology could be developed to
correct the problem of underestimation. However, these behaviors are confounded
in that they sometimes occur jointly and at different times in the test-taking
process. Additional confounding takes place because many Indian students possess
other individual characteristics which normally present testing problems:
poverty, low parental education, broken homes, and nonstandard English
backgrounds. McDiarmid (1972) discusses the role that poverty, health and
nutrition, social conflict, language, and test motivation play in the
interpretation of test data on Indian children. The major factors were found to
be language and test motivation. Some suggestions to facilitate test fairness
have been reported in aptitude and ability assessment, such as in the General
Aptitude Test Battery (Hunter, 1983). Measurement professionals have addressed
the problem of cultural influence on test performance, but to date an
operationally functional treatment of the problem still does not exist.
Many American Indian students fail to exhibit successful test-taking
behaviors due to a multiplicity of underlying causes. Cultural beliefs in some
tribes may bar competitive behaviors in an academic setting. The student may
underestimate the seriousness of the test or fail to adopt a successful response
strategy (such as selective scanning for known items, techniques of using
partial information to guess correct answers, or efficient time use). Students
exhibit a dichotomy in regard to their perceptions of the purposes and
significance of tests (Deyhle, 1986). Acculturation has been found to be an
influence on both achievement and ability tests (Guilmet, 1983). Guilmet
suggests that acculturation and test motivation are associated.
The second most influential factor leading to underestimation is language;
that is, inability of many Indian students to read the questions accurately or
to give appropriate verbal responses. Tests which do not make extensive use of
verbal language are not subject to underestimation as much as those that depend
on verbal instructions and reading. For example, Shutt (l962) found that the
Hiskey-Nebraska test of Learning Aptitude, a non-verbal test designed for use
with deaf children produced estimates of higher potential for Indian children
than the Wechsler Test. The influence of learning English as a second language
is further reinforced by the fact that many Indian students' first languages are
Students' lack of the assumed experiences or cognitive structures necessary
to respond to certain items is caused both by the culture and by the setting in
which many children are reared. The isolated, rural environment of many
reservation settings, the restrictive poverty of many families, and the cultural
ties that promote continued identification with the tribe deny students
important knowledge of the outside world. Fortune (1985) found that a majority
of the Indian students in an economically deprived reservation setting lacked
the experience needed to understand the examples that teachers use in
instruction and, consequently, the background needed to perform well on
achievement tests. A study of intelligence and aptitude test results of one
tribe found nonstandard scores (Mishra, 1981). These results are further
substantiated by unique patterns of measured Indian aptitude found by other
studies. On the WISC-R test, Indian children show a pattern of greater strength
than the norm population in relational, holistic and right hemisphere
information processing (Browne, 1984). Indian children in two other reservation
settings demonstrated a performance pattern on the Wechsler different from
normal and learning disabled Anglo children. Spatial abilities were more
well-developed than sequencing skills (McShane and Plas, 1982).
Although Boloz and Varrati (1983) found that test scores for Indian students
were higher for those who had the best attendance records and stayed in the same
district, many Indian students live in discouraging situations where there is
little congruence between their life experiences and the skills needed for
testing. These students often do not speak English outside of school. In
addition, there are few books available for them to read. Personal and community
poverty, aggravated by lack of industrial development and employed role models,
does little to stimulate student awareness of mathematics and its applications.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR TEST USE
Applications of the principles of test theory to the source of
underestimation leads to several useful maxims for using standardized tests with
many American Indian students. Prior to the administration of standardized tests
to American Indian students or to the interpretation of American Indian test
data, the test administrator can do several things that may contribute to better
student performance. For ability, aptitude, and intelligence testing, one should
ensure that the students have had exposure to the experiences assumed in the
design of the test, the opportunity to develop the requisite skills, and the
circumstances they need in order to value a successful test performance. For
achievement tests, one should make certain that the students have been
instructionally exposed to the content of the test and have had opportunity to
apply this content; that they have had experience in taking the test, are
test-wise and able to understand test instructions and time requirements; that
the test is to be or was administered at a time similar to when it was normed;
and that the test has Indian norms. A few of the national testing corporations,
such as the developers of the California Achievement Test, are developing Indian
norms for their tests.
Several papers offer additional reading and help in the area of testing
Indian students. They include guidelines for testing bicultural children
(Bernardoni, 1967) and for second language testing (Upshur and Fata, 1968), as
well as annotations of tests found appropriate for use with American Indians
(Educational Testing Service, 1982).
Recommendations for future research appear fraught with problems. The natural
recommendation for most tribes to become involved in the process of developing
their own tests has to be considered in the light of the high costs and resource
requirements needed to develop a quality test. Tribal differences and dispersion
of many Indian students would suggest that tribally developed tests may lack
enough general applications across tribes for merit. Further research may be
better invested in documenting the similarity and differences of test reactions
and in the development of intervention programs to teach test administrators to
use tests in an appropriate manner with American Indian students.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bernardoni, Louis C. "The Testing of Bicultural Children," SHARING IDEAS 4
(1967): 1-5. ED 077 977.
Boloz, Sigmund A., and Richard Varrati. "Apologize or Analyze: Measuring
Academic Achievement in the Reservation School," JOURNAL OF AMERICAN INDIAN
EDUCATION 23 (1983): 23-28.
Browne, Dauna Bell. "WISC-R Scoring Patterns among Native Americans of the
Northern Plains." WHITE CLOUD JOURNAL 3 (1984): 3-16.
Deyhle, Donna. "Success and Failure: A Micro-ethnographic Comparison of
Navajo and Anglo Students' Perceptions of Testing." Curriculum Inquiry 16
Educational Testing Service (ETS). TESTS FOR AMERICAN INDIANS. Princeton:
ETS, 1982. ED 227 995.
Fortune, Jim C. CHOCTAW COMPREHENSIVE SCHOOL STUDY. Philadelphia, MS: Choctaw
Heritage Press, 1985.
Guilment, George M. THE INAPPROPRIATENESS OF STANDARDIZED TESTING IN A
CULTURALLY HETEROGENEOUS MILIEU: A NAVAJO EXAMPLE. Los Angeles, CA: University
of California, 1983. ED 261 830.
Hunter, John E. FAIRNESS OF THE GENERAL APTITUDE TEST BATTERY: ABILITY
DIFFERENCES AND THEIR IMPACT ON MINORITY HIRING RATES. Uses Test Research Report
No. 46. Sacramento, CA: California State Department of Employment Development,
1983. ED 237 534.
McDiarmid, G. L. THE HAZARDS OF TESTING INDIAN CHILDREN. Las Cruces, NM:
ERIC/CRESS, 1972. ED 055 692.
McShane, Damina Anthony, and Jeanne M. Plas, "Wechsler Scale Performance
Patterns of American Indian Children." PSYCHOLOGY IN THE SCHOOLS 19 (1982):
Mishra, Shitala P. "Relationship of WISC-R Factor Scores to Academic
Achievement and Classroom Behaviors of Native American Navajos." MEASUREMENT AND
EVALUATION IN GUIDANCE 14 (1981): 26-30.
Shutt, Darold L. FAMILY PARTICIPATION IN THE PSYCHOLOGICAL EVAUALTION OF
MINORITY CHILDREN. Paper presented to the Southwestern Orthopsychological
Association Meeting, Galveston, TX, November, 1972. ED 071-830.
Upshur, John A., and Julia Fata, (Eds). PROBLEMS IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE TESTING:
PROCEEDINGS OF A CONFERENCE HELD AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN, SEPTEMBER, 1967.
Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Research Club in Language Learning, 1968.
ED 022 162.