Stereotype threat

Controversy arises over possible gender bias in SAT questions

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Two questions in the newly-revamped SAT have sparked a controversy over possible gender bias in the standardized test. Experts are debating whether these questions were unfair to female students because of the so-called “stereotype threat” — a term used by psychologists to describe how being confronted with negative stereotypes about your sex or race on a test can lead test-takers to underperform. The controversial questions featured a chart, showing more boys in math classes than girls, and a verbal exercise asking students to analyze a 19th century text that argued that women’s place was in the home.

The College Board, which organizes the test, claims that it had vetted the test thoroughly for fairness and also analyzed results, which did “not show an unfair advantage to either group.” Some tutors, such as Sheila Akbar, education director for test-prep company Signet Education disagree. “I thought, ‘Wait a minute. This test is really trying women in a way that’s slightly different than it’s testing men,’” Akbar told The New York Times. “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.” Joshua Aronson, an associate professor of applied psychology at New York University who was one of the pioneers on research on stereotype-driven “test anxiety” in the 1990s, also described the questions as problematic. “I’m not saying we should put everybody in a rubber room so they couldn’t possibly be touched by controversy,” Dr. Aronson said. “But why would you go out of your way to couch a percentage problem as a girls-in-math problem?”

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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