UBC Graduate Research

Cultural and linguistic capital, standardized tests and the perpetuation of educational inequities Ayre, Jessica


Students who possess the socioeconomic, cultural and linguistic capital of the dominant class come to school with a “head start” and stand to benefit most from standardized tests. In my conceptual study examining the relationship between socioeconomic, cultural and linguistic capital, and educational attainment, I employ a critical review of the pertinent literature beginning with Bourdieu and Passeron’s seminal work. Although researchers have been operationalizing Bourdieu’s cultural capital theory for over thirty years, it is clear that there has been little agreement as to how cultural capital should be measured, or even if it can be measured. I argue that much of the empirical research critiquing the impact of Bourdieu’s notion of cultural and linguistic capital on educational attainment has been operationalized from a positivist perspective and based on narrow conceptions of Bourdieu’s theory, and consequently, has provided inconclusive and often contradictory results. Utilizing a definition of cultural capital more closely aligned with that intended by Bourdieu, I examine the connection between socioeconomic, cultural and linguistic capital, and standardized tests, and explore how educational inequities are perpetuated through the use of standardized forms of assessment, discussing the implications of my findings for educational practice throughout. I then suggest some first-and second-order changes that may at the very least make standardized tests accessible to all learners, and at best, make public education equitable for all members of the school community.

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