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Are your child’s school tests culturally fair?

A study shows a culture fair test to measure storytelling skills in Black children should include items with and without visual cues

The interesting and important research by Dr. Monique T. Mills suggests to parents of African American school-aged children that they have to 1) understand how their children are being tested in schools and 2) become advocates for culturally fair tests.

Dr. Mills is an Assistant Professor of Speech and Hearing Science at The Ohio State University and affiliated with the University’s Institute of Population Research (Mills, n.d). She works with elementary schools, where she and graduate student research assistants observe school-aged African American children as they respond to stories the research team presents. The researchers capture what the schoolchildren ‘tell, write, read and answer about questions the researchers pose’ (Mills, n.d.), and they then analyze the children’s narration to measure their narrative skills. Narrative skills relate to storytelling. Other research dating back decades finds evidence that these skills can predict how well children will do in school subjects (Lazar et al., 1982), such as math (O’Neill, Pearce, & Pick, 2004).

Dr. Mills’ study found the following:

  1. Tests that use pictures to get children to narrate might not capture the rich and complex language that African American school children used in Dr. Mills’ study when no visual cues, such as pictures, were given. Children not shown visual cues but were told a story and then prompted for a response, elaborated more and used a variety of words and complex sentence structures in their responses than children shown a picture.
  2. The weakest performance was among the children who were shown a single picture and asked to respond. The strongest performance was among children who were not shown a visual cue when told a fictional story.


“The results suggest the need for narrative elicitation contexts that include verbal as well as visual tasks to fully describe the narrative performance of school-age African American children with typical development.”

These findings should interest parents of African American children who show typical development and are bidialectical (Mills, 2015); that is, the children are learning at a typical rate and learning both African American English and Mainstream American English. Dr. Mills’ research suggests that if we want to accurately and fairly capture African American school children’s storytelling skills, which tell us how well they comprehend what they read and which predict children’s overall school performance, then we need to have tests that include test items without illustrations or other visual cues.


What are “culture fair” tests?

Tests that are culturally fair are tests that present no bias against any culture in the process of interpreting the results or the use of the results in establishing a diagnosis (Getz, 2011). In the example above, tests that measure children’s storytelling ability should include items with ad without visual cues in order to fully capture the abilities of African American children.



Getz, G.E. (2011). Culture Fair Test. In J.S. Kreutzer, J. DeLuca, & B. Caplan (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Clinical Neuropsychology (pp. 755-756). New York, Dordrecht, Heidelberg, London: Springer. Retrieved from

Lazar, I, Darlington, R., Murray, H., Royce, J., & Snipper, A. (1982). Lasting effects of early education: A report from the consortium for longitudinal studies. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 47 (Serial No. 19)

Mills, M. T. (2015). The effects of visual stimuli on the spoken narrative performance of school-age African American children. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 46, pp. 337-351.

Mills, M.T. [Monique Mills, Ph.D.]. (n.d.). Monique Mills, Ph.D. [Video file]. Retrieved from

O’Neill, D.K., Pearce, M.J., & Pick, J.L. (2004). Preschool children’s narratives and performance on the Peabody Individualized Achievement Test – Revised: Evidence of a relation between early narrative and later mathematical ability. First Language, 24(2), pp. 149-183.

MY NOTES–this will be deleted but I still need chart to understand findings:

Fictional narrative performance that


Visual Condition>


Differences in oral language behaviors∨

Context 1 – NO VISUAL







elaboration rate

higher not as high not as high
number of different word roots (NDW) rate higher higher not as high
mean length of utterance in words higher not as high not as high
dialect density

(production of African American English)

younger kids higher than older children varied according to child’s grade varied according to child’s grade


Diagnostic risk was related to NDW rate and dialect density measure.

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