Fair and balanced. A test that serves both test takers and test administrators contains a careful combination of properties for adequate balance and validity. Making sure that translations do the same is not always possible. However, when it comes to cross-cultural testing and the need to effectively express an instrument in another language for another culture, adaptation is often the most valuable course of action.
Adaptation is a tool that helps maintain a test’s psychometric properties when assessing different linguistic and cultural populations. Here I will discuss some of the specific problems that adaptation can solve, in addition to some of the steps an adaptation plan often includes.
Examples of What May Need to Be Adapted
Units of measurement. Translation may mean simply rendering the measurement “pounds” into another language. Adaptation, on the other hand, goes further by converting the measurement into the form best understood by the target population when completing the test item’s task. Depending on the group of test takers and the goal of the assessment, this may mean expressing the measurement in kilos or even a concept such as a bag of rice.
Culturally-sensitive items that detract from the task at hand. While a simple drawing of a person pointing at a group of people (included in the original assessment to clarify the meaning of a question) may be perfectly appropriate in one culture, it may be out of place when testing a different cultural population. Imagine that the second group of test takers would likely be distracted by what they consider the rude nature of the pointing gesture. In cases like this, adaptation calls for a new drawing, or perhaps a short set of instructions, that clarify the question while ensuring that nothing unnecessary or culturally insensitive is inadvertently present.
Level of difficulty. If two populations have equal abilities concerning the subject of the assessment, but the test questions are easier for one of the populations, then adaptation may be required to keep bias at bay and ensure that the assessment’s level of difficulty is the same for the second population as it is for the first.
Common Steps in an Adaptation Plan
Adaptation plans for cross-cultural assessments typically share many of the same features, like those listed below.
Planning. An action plan is designed before action is taken. The adaptation goals, needs assessment processes, team requirements, quality assurance safeguards and documentation procedures are determined and set forth.
Recruitment. Team members are recruited based on their knowledge and experience in such areas as assessment adaptation, psychometrics, target language proficiency and cultural expertise. Team members are briefed on adaptation goals and expectations for their work.
Review source assessment. Team members identify areas in the source assessment that may need adaptation and gather possible solutions.
Review translated assessment. Team members identify areas in the translated assessment that may need adaptation and gather possible solutions. Don’t forget to pretest any adaptation decisions.
Document the resulting adaptations. Ensure that processes, decisions and rationales, as well as the assessment’s adaptations, are recorded for each version or iteration.
Is Adaptation the Answer?
When it comes to cross-cultural testing, adaptation is a flexible tool that allows a test to maintain adequate reliability and validity.
If you’d like to discuss cost-effective adaptation methods to ensure instrument integrity and to improve cross-cultural testing outcomes, call me (Ken) at +1-212-355-4455 ext. 208.