Avoiding Bias and Stereotypes – Test Design & Delivery Part 5

Posted By Doug Peterson

As you write and evaluate your assessment items, it is critical to avoid bias and stereotyping, as they can inhibit the impartiality, and therefore the fairness, of your assessment.

“Bias” refers to giving a preference to one group over another. There are a number of ways that bias can creep into your item writing. For example, if you use language that is familiar to a group in a specific geographical location, it would give them an unfair advantage over participants from other parts of the globe. You can avoid bias by doing the following:

  • Use neutral terms, for example, sales agent instead of salesman.
  • Strive for a balanced representation of various groups in diverse roles.
  • Use standard, formal English. Avoid slang, idioms and colloquialisms. Also avoid obscure language or ambiguous acronyms unless they are standard, recognized terms with regards to the subject matter of the assessment.
  • Be wary of using a condescending tone. For example, this could be a tone that implies that a person with differing abilities is incapable of caring for himself or herself, or that a person of lower socio-economic status is not as intelligent as someone from a higher status.
  • Avoid references to race, ethnicity, gender, age, etc. unless they specifically apply to the question. For example, it would be appropriate to mention age in a question about a medical diagnosis if age is pertinent and could change the diagnosis, but it is not appropriate to mention age when age has nothing to do with the knowledge or skill being assessed.

Stereotyping is when you make generalizations or assumptions about a person based on his or her membership in a group. There are several ways to avoid stereotyping:

  • Include positive depictions of individuals in non-traditional roles. For example, don’t assume that all nurses are female and all doctors are male.
  • Make sure your items are reviewed by a diverse group of subject matter experts.
  • Present people with disabilities in active, capable and independent positions.
  • Avoid common racial/ethnic stereotyping.
  • Do not portray either sex as submissive or having an inferior status.
  • Do not demean the elderly by portraying them as feeble, lonely or dependent.

By avoiding bias and stereotypes, you help ensure that your assessment is testing only what it should be testing, and that nothing is interfering with or distracting from participants’ ability to demonstrate their true knowledge levels.

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