As soon as she heard her classmates giggle and utter the word “Negro,” 17-year-old Kayla Thomas started thumbing ahead in the test that had been handed out to her psychology class.
Thomas, a student at Klein Collins High School in the Klein district, says she was stunned to find that her Advanced Placement class had been given a copy of the so-called “Chitling Intelligence Test.”
The multiple-choice exam, which includes references to “handkerchief heads,” welfare mothers and how long chitlings should be cooked, was written almost 40 years ago to illustrate how intelligence tests could be culturally biased.
But Thomas says the materials, developed after the 1960s race riots in Los Angeles, aren’t appropriate for a modern-day high school class. In addition to an apology from the teacher, she wants the Klein district to remove the material from its curriculum.
Officials in that northwest Harris County district say the test was among the suggested materials for the college-level class, but they believe the problem occurred largely because it was administered by a substitute teacher, who didn’t spend much time explaining it.
Johnson [district spokeswoman Liz Johnson] said Friday that the district has decided to take a closer look at whether the “chitling test” is appropriate for high schoolers. A committee of educators will meet to decide whether to keep the test in the curriculum, she said.
Officials at the Texas Education Agency and the College Board, which administers Advanced Placement exams, said they leave it up to each school to decide whether to use the test.
Some experts agree with Thomas that the “chitling test” is no longer appropriate or relevant. Several area districts, including Katy and Cypress-Fairbanks, said they don’t use it.
University of Houston professor Tom Kubiszyn said teaching about racial bias in standardized testing is a dicey endeavor. “It’s very controversial, and it’s a very muddy area,” he said. “If you’re looking to stir up the pot, it’s probably as good a way as any.”
After World War II, Kubiszyn said, Americans used heavily biased tests to discriminate against immigrants, mainly from Eastern Europe. Because many of them didn’t have a good grasp of English, their test results often got them labeled as “mentally retarded,” he said.
“The test publishers these days go through a very extensive process for screening their questions,” he said. “You can never completely eliminate it, but they certainly make a concerted effort to minimize the impact.”
But Kay Miller, lead consultant at Rice University’s Advanced Placement Summer Institute, said she thinks the “chitling test” is appropriate, even for teenagers. She has distributed it to Houston-area teachers during summer workshops.
“It’s valuable,” she said. “The whole point is to show that tests need to be culturally fair, and I think it does a good job.”
Bertha Holliday, director of the ethnic minority affairs office for the American Psychological Association, agreed that there’s value in teaching teenagers about racial bias in testing. Top researchers are still studying bias in the SAT and high-stakes, exit-level exams for high schoolers, she said.
Kayla Thomas (right) with her mother.
Here are excerpts from the “Chitling Test:”
* A “handkerchief head” is:
a.) a cool cat
b.) a porter
c.) an Uncle Tom
d.) a hoddi
e.) a preacher
* If you throw the dice and 7 is showing on the top, what is facing down?
b.) snake eyes
d.) little Joes
* If a man is called a “blood,” then he is a:
d. hungry hemophile
e.) Redman or Indian