ERIC Identifier: ED434246
Publication Date: 1999-00-00
Author: Austin, James T.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Adult Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Culturally Sensitive Career Assessment: A Quandary. ERIC Digest
The concept of culture looms large in the world these days. Although the term
can be difficult to define (Triandis 1972, 1994), the essence of culture is a
reminder to institutions and individuals that there are other "tribes" in the
world. Their appearance, behavior, and customs are different, and sometimes
vastly different. In the domains of working and schooling, cultural diversity
has become an important concept and a source of leverage for those who dare to
surf on turbulent waves that involve new ways of thinking and new ways of doing
(Jackson et al. 1992). Just as it is encouraging to see general assessment
competency checklists (Garfield and Prediger 1994), so it is heartening to see
progress in the area of multicultural assessment. Among the signs of progress
noted in the preparation of this digest are discussions of cultural competencies
and standards for counselors (Paniagua 1998; Sue, Arredondo, and McDavis 1992;
Sue et al. 1998); proposals for increasing understanding of cultural issues,
both general (Bourhis, Moise, Perreault, and Senecal 1997; Locke 1998) and with
respect to counseling (Lee 1999); and research-based considerations of the
career development and vocational behavior of racial-ethnic minorities (Leong
APPROPRIATE ASSESSMENT: WHAT HAS BEEN DONE?
perspectives challenge traditional perspectives on assessment by advancing an
additional source of variation in test responses that is presumed to escape test
developers and test users. The early work of Jane Mercer in assessment of
abilities is exemplary in this regard, especially her development and defense of
the System of Multicultural Pluralistic Assessment (SOMPA; Mercer, 1976,
1978-79, 1979). Marsella and Leong (1995) recently explicated linguistic,
conceptual, scale, and normative aspects of measures as standards of
equivalence. They used these terms to address the specificity and generality of
personality and career assessments with respect to culture. Linguistic
equivalence refers to the language and thus to the instructions and items of
assessments. Conceptual equivalence refers to the meaning of the constructs that
are assessed. Are the notions of work and career, for example, viewed similarly
across cultures? Scale equivalence refers to the response formats, whether
True-False or Likert or "thermometer"-type scales. Finally, normative
equivalence refers to the existence of interpretive assistance for the
interpreter of an assessment. Although costly to develop in terms of time and
resources, norms for such cultural groups as Asian-Americans, African-Americans,
Hispanic-Americans, and Native-Americans provide indispensable aid to counselors
who often originate from the cultural majority group.
A strong claim, for which there is increasing and convergent evidence from
multiple sources (Sue 1996), is that ethnocentric errors occur in test
development, administration, and interpretation. They range from misdiagnosis to
labeling to inappropriate treatment planning to erroneous conclusions about
intervention effectiveness. The quandary of the subtitle of this digest arises,
as Janet Helms puts it in a 1997 chapter about ability assessment, because
cultural equivalence is not considered or is considered to be unimportant.
However, counselors are confronted with increasingly diverse individuals across
colors and cultures. Holaday and Boucher (1998) investigated the trends in the
Journal of Personality Assessment between 1937 and 1997 by coding each article
in the first issue of each decade (a total of seven issues). A key finding was
that only 6% of the participants in the studies were reported as African,
Mexican, or Asian Americans. Given these observations, there exist many more
questions than answers.
In the area of career assessment, for instance, what progress has been made
since Sedlacek and Kim (1995) presented four common assessment errors and four
suggestions for the improvement of multicultural assessment in career
counseling? Have researchers and practitioners heeded Subich's recommendations
(1994)? Has recognition of problems led to any attempts at solutions? Are
constructs defined with cultural groups in mind? Are norms appropriate for
diverse cultural groups? Are validation studies conducted with cultural groups
represented or even in mind?
First, there is evidence of an increasing focus on multicultural assessment
issues, although most of the attention has been focused on assessments of
abilities and of psychopathology. Prediger (1993, 1994) compiled relevant
standards from five source publications, deriving 34 points of guidance and
organizing them into four assessment tasks: selection of instruments (content),
selection of instruments (technical considerations), administration and scoring,
and use/interpretation. Another notable development in this regard is the
appearance of three recent edited books, by Sodowsky and Impara (1996), by
Sandoval, Frisby, Geisinger, Ramos-Grenier, and Scheuneman (1998), and by Samuda
(1998). Although comprehension of their chapters often requires assessment,
statistical, and cultural expertise, all books are well worth reading. Sodowsky
and Impara present revised papers first delivered at a Buros Institute Symposium
and address a scientist-practitioner audience in counseling and clinical
psychology. The book's sections address test bias and multicultural assessment
theory, new developments in measuring white and black racial attitudes, and
relationships of multicultural competencies and counselor training. Samuda's
book, a publication of the American Psychological Association, focuses on issues
of diversity associated with test interpretation, with chapters addressing
perspectives on test interpretation, contexts for interpretation, dimensions of
diversity, and future trends. It is encouraging that these books address the
training of specialists to assess and counsel members of diverse groups (cf.
Many resources, however, address career issues only tangentially. In career
counseling, since the time of Parsons (1909), the interest of researchers and
practitioners has been oriented toward three questions: assessment of individual
capabilities and characteristics, assessment of occupational/organizational
features, and match, fit, or linkage between the two sets. Research attempts to
understand relationships among variables and practice attempts to use the
results of research and experience to provide services to individuals, schools,
and work organizations. Assessment in the career field concentrates upon the
first of Parsons' questions, assessment of the individual, and emphasizes
measurement of abilities, personality traits, interests, and various career
theory constructs (e.g., maturity, indecision, self-efficacy). Interventions are
largely based on the results of assessments, with counseling processes and
outcomes following that lead.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD BE DONE?
Reviews should be conducted of
the major instruments available for classifying individuals in terms of
abilities, personality traits, and vocational interests. The reviews should
focus upon their consideration and investigation of the four types of
equivalence. In addition, measures of career decision making process and status
(e.g., maturity, indecision, etc.) should be scrutinized in the same manner.
Process studies of how counselors use assessment information in diagnosis,
planning, and evaluation should assist in refining the training of culturally
sensitive and capable counselors. The fourth edition of the leading set of
assessment standards, issued jointly by the American Educational Research
Association, American Psychological Association, and National Council on
Measurement in Education, is presently in press. To what extent were
multicultural issues considered in the revision? Upon review of a draft version
of the 15 chapters, it is clear that portions of the second part, four chapters
on fairness in testing, pertain to cultural issues. They include a general
treatment of fairness and bias in testing and treatments of the rights of test
takers, effects of varying linguistic backgrounds on testing, and testing
individuals with disabilities.
A summary of what has been done in the area of multicultural assessment
reveals that although progress has been made, there is still much to do.
Attention to multicultural assessment in the area of typical performance is in
its "infancy" relative to the area of maximal performance, which is in its
"adolescence." Test developers could profit from considering and implementing
the concept of Sensitivity Review Guidelines and Principles, which are available
on the World Wide Web (http://www.ets.org/fairness). For practitioners, it might
be a useful exercise to reflect on how they themselves fit into the quadrants
defined by Leong (1993). He crossed two levels of an appropriateness facet with
two levels of a counseling goals/outcomes facet to yield a 2x2 matrix. There are
two "consistent" cells-appropriate goals and process, inappropriate goals and
process, and two "inconsistent" cells- inappropriate goals-appropriate process,
appropriate goals-inappropriate process. Labels devised by Leong for these
quadrants are as follows: On Target, Missed by a Mile, Barking up the Wrong
Tree, and Good-Hearted Bumbler. Academics engaged in teaching and research could
also learn from this classification.
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