Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Psychoeducational Assessment of Ebonics Speakers: Issues and Challenges

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Psychoeducational Assessment of Ebonics Speakers: Issues and Challenges

Article excerpt

Traditional standardized psychoeducational assessments do not adequately consider, nor do they fully account for or adapt to, the nonstandard dialects and cultural experiences that certain test takers bring to the evaluation experience. The assessment of African American Ebonics-- speaking students using such tests presents particular challenges. This article focuses on the specific limitations of these assessments for Ebonics- speakers, and describes alternative measures that yield more accurate results for these students. Further, the article highlights the implications of traditional and nontraditional assessment approaches for psychoeducational test developers, evaluators, educators, and students.


Issues surrounding the psychoeducational assessment of bilingual/bidialectal children have drawn considerable attention from educators, psychologists, researchers, and politicans (Armour-Thomas & Gopaul-McNicol, 1997; Mercer, 1979; Oakland, 1977; Vasquez-Nuttall, Goldman, & Landurand, 1983; Williams, 1975). It has been widely asserted in recent decades that traditional assessments of cognitive ability and written, oral language, and reading skills do not yield accurate results for African American children who speak nonstandard dialects of English such as Ebonics-. Several scholars have claimed that the test-performance disparities noted between students who speak Standard English and those who speak Ebonics- can be attributed to dialectal as well as cultural differences (Allen & Boykin, 1992; Boykin, 1994; Gordon, 1991; Hilliard, 1983; Jones, 1988). Hilliard further concludes that Black children's poor performance on these assessments often results in their being labeled "poor readers, low in intelligence, and speech impaired" (p. 52). Moreover, errors wrought by the "indiscriminate use of psychological tests, especally IQ tests" have been found to contribute to the disproportionate number of Ebonics-- speaking African American children who are relegated to special education classes (Cummins, 1984, p. 1).

Hilliard and others (Baugh, 1991; Haynes & Gebreyesus, 1992) have asserted that erroneous assumptions about the inferiority of the language systems and culture of African Americans vis-a-vis that of European Americans are at the core of the tests' inaccuracies. Chief among these misconceptions, according to Hilliard, are those which attest that Standard English is a pure and superior language, that English usage is fixed and permanent, and that American English is uninfluenced by African languages. Additionally, many educators and psychoeducational evaluators are unaware of certain basic facts about the distinctive African American language system called Ebonics- (see other articles in this issue: Harper, 1999; Taylor, 1999; Wright, 1999; see also Williams, 1975). As a result, they subsequently fail to understand Ebonics- in terms of its multiple linguistic origins, particularly those features resulting from the fusion of various African languages with English. They also fail to consider the enduring and far-reaching impact of Ebonics- on African American communication, comprehension, and interpretation generally or, more specifically, on the education of African Americans.

How are evaluators, teachers, and test developers to contend with these issues? In seeking to answer this question, the present article examines the impact of dialectal differences on the performance of Ebonics--speaking and Standard English-speaking test takers on traditional standardized psychoeducational assessments. It also describes alternative assessments that have been shown to facilitate more accurate portraits of the psychoeducational functioning and potential of Ebonics- speakers.


Garner and Rubin (1986) and Roy (1987) emphasize that every language is shaped by the cultural experiences of the social group that uses it, and that no one language is better than any other insofar as its structure is concerned. …

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