Culture-fair tests, also called culture-free tests, are designed to assess intelligence without relying on knowledge specific to any individual cultural group or educational level. One of the first culture-fair tests, the Army Beta Examination, was developed by the United States military during World War I to screen soldiers of average intelligence who were illiterate or for whom English was a second language. Beginning in the post-war period, culture-fair tests, which rely largely on nonverbal questions, have been used in public schools with non-native English speaking students whose lack of familiarity with both English language and American culture have made it impossible to assess their intelligence level using standard IQ tests.
Culture-fair testing is a timely issue given current debate over bias in intelligence and educational testing as it affects students who can speak and write English, but who are unfamiliar with white middle-class culture. Bias in intelligence testing has a historical precedent in early tests designed to exclude immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe from admission to the United States on grounds of mental inferiority. Critics of current tests claim that they discriminate against ethnic minorities in similar ways by calling for various types of knowledge unavailable to those outside the middle-class cultural mainstream.