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Maintaining Equivalence in Cross-Cultural Assessments

While word-for-word translation can be appropriate in some cases, it can be simply disastrous in others. Imagine the integrity of a cross-cultural assessment being destroyed in one fell swoop.

Cross-cultural assessments are instruments that provide a wealth of valuable insights, but only if the psychometric properties of the original test or control language are maintained. That’s why equivalence becomes the watchword for testing integrity.

Four Types of Equivalence

For maximum reliability and validity in cross-cultural testing, there are four major types of equivalence to take into account for translation and adaptation: construct equivalence, cultural equivalence, linguistic equivalence and measurement equivalence.

Construct equivalence allows you to compare results across cultures in a meaningful way. If the subject of the assessment was understood very differently by the target populations, would test responses be useful or worthwhile? Construct equivalence means finding the way to compare apples to apples, and not apples to oranges.

Cultural equivalence means that concepts are effectively expressed across all versions of an assessment. Does the test employ similar modes of address? Does the assessment allow respondents to understand what is being asked of them in the way that it was intended, even in cases when an exact cultural equivalent may not exist? The goal of cultural equivalence is to ensure that cultural connotations are not gained or lost in translation.

Linguistic equivalence establishes the translation accuracy of an assessment. Does the target language express the same message or meaning as it does in the source language? Linguistic equivalence ensures that a cross-cultural assessment is correctly asking what needs to be asked.

Measurement equivalence speaks to an assessment’s comparability. Does the test retain similar psychometric measures across all versions? Are the response styles similar and appropriate? Some features may make inter-group comparisons impossible while still allowing for intra-group comparisons.

Equivalence in Testing

For a valid and reliable cross-cultural assessment, you need to adequately maintain the original psychometric properties across all versions through equivalence. However, equivalence is a balancing act. Simple items might lend themselves to relatively close translation, while more complex items will require judicious balance between comparability and cultural appropriateness.

What do you think? If you’d like to discuss cost-effective ways to preserve test integrity and maintain equivalence in cross-cultural assessments, call me (Ken) at +1-212-355-4455 ext. 208 or send an email to

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