Test bias is a real problem and unfortunately, good intentions don’t make it go away. Without an honest understanding of how bias works and the best ways to avoid it, a test may inadvertently be designed, adapted or translated in such a way that certain test takers have clear advantages over other test takers. This is particularly true in cross-cultural assessments – where fluency in specific languages and/or cultural customs can be more predictive of a population’s performance than their actual knowledge or experiences regarding the topic.
Three major types of bias in testing that need to be addressed for the sake of fairness and comparability include construct bias, item bias and method bias.
What is the test really measuring? When testing populations with different language and/or cultural backgrounds, construct bias can prevent some test takers from being accurately assessed or tested on the subject at hand. Neutralizing construct bias helps establish a test’s validity and involves creating adequate conceptual equivalents. When done correctly, these equivalents allow for the particular language and cultural characteristics of the target testing populations and how they might relate to the test. Only then can new test versions adequately measure what they set out to measure.
When adapted or translated, does a test item change in more ways than one? Test items must be adapted and translated so that the equivalent words and phrases work precisely as they should on every level. Item bias refers to all the unintended modifications that can creep in and thwart a fair test. Examples include poor word choices that have several different meanings, are ambiguous, are unfamiliar to the audience, use a different social register, use a different reading level and change the difficulty level of the item.
Is it fair to compare the results of some test takers to the results of other test takers? Method bias comes from the differences in methods that may result from varying test conditions. For example, if two testing populations received the same amount of time to take a test, but one population took the test using paper and pencils and the other population took the test using a computer.
One thing is for certain: Bias is a complex issue. If you’d like to discuss cost-effective ways to preserve test integrity and prevent bias in cross-cultural assessments, call me (Ken) at +1-212-355-4455 ext. 208.