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Jun 29 2016
by Jenna Ciccotelli

Tutors Say New SAT Test Is Full of Gender Bias

By Jenna Ciccotelli - Jun 29 2016
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Standardized test taking isn't a walk in the park for anyone, but for girls, it may have just gotten worse.

Two questions on a version of the recently redesigned SAT test have come under fire for potential gender bias towards women. According to the New York Times, a math question featured a chart that showed more males enrolled in math classes than females, and a verbal question asked students to analyze essays that argued the role of a woman in a 19th century home. Experts were frustrated with the questions and worried about their impact on female test takers.

"Here I am, a seasoned test taker, a 36-year-old woman, being distracted by this material. I wonder what 17-year-olds are thinking," Sheila Akbar, education director for a test prep company, told the Times. Boston-based tutor Cynthia Cowan told of a student who "was so surprised [by the gender bias present in the essays] that he assumed he had misinterpreted the essay completely." 

Joshua Aronson, an associate professor of applied psychology at New York University, told the Times that these SAT questions were the perfect example of the stereotype threat, which suggests that, in this situation, girls taking the test would be aware of negative stereotypes regarding their performance and do poorly on the test due to that reminder. Aronson has led research on stereotypes in testings since the 1990s.

Kate Welk, the director of assessment communications for the College Board, who administers the SAT test, explained that measures were implemented to ensure the absence of bias from the new test. The material was pretested on a group of male and female students, and no significant difference was found in their performance on the questions. "This means the questions did not present an unfair advantage to either group," Welk told the Times.

While the questions may not have significantly tripped up any students, they were enough to have experts questioning the material, and it's unnecessary to have any potential bias on these tests to begin with.

Lead Image Credit: Dawid Malecki via Unsplash


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Jenna Ciccotelli - Northeastern University

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