Helms And Cultural Equivalence

As noted above, Helms (1992) and other authors have re-framed the CTBH approach over time. Helms has addressed the implicit biological and environmental philosophical perspectives used to explain racial and ethnic group differences in tested cognitive ability. Helms's position is that these perspectives stem from inadequate notions of culture and that neither perspective provides useful information about the cultural equivalence of tests for diverse ethnic groups. Assessment of cultural equivalence is necessary to account for minority groups' cultural, social, and cognitive differences from the majority.

For Helms (1992), cultural equivalence should take seven forms (Butcher, 1982): (a) functional equivalence, the extent to which test scores have the same meaning for different cultural groups; (b) conceptual equivalence, whether test items have the same meaning and familiarity in different groups; (c) linguistic equivalence, whether tests have the same linguistic meaning to different groups; (d) psychometric equivalence, the extent to which tests measure the same thing for different groups; (e) testing condition equivalence, whether groups are equally familiar with testing procedures and view testing as a means of assessing ability; (f) contextual equivalence, the extent to which a cognitive ability is assessed similarly in different contexts in which people behave; and (g) sampling equivalence, whether comparable samples of each cultural group are available at the test development, validation, and interpretation stages.

Helms (1992) argues for the diversification of existing tests, the development of new standardized tests, and the formation of explicit principles, hypotheses, assumptions, and theoretical models for investigating cultural differences. In addition, Helms argues that existing frameworks—biological, environmental, and cultural—should be operationally defined.

For future research, Helms (1992) recommends (a) development of measures for determining interracial cultural dependence and levels of acculturation and assimilation in test items, (b) modification of test content to include items that reflect cultural diversity, (c) examination of incorrect responses, (d) incorporation of cognitive psychology into interactive modes of assessment, (e) use of theories to examine environmental content of criteria, and (f) separate racial group norms for existing tests. Researchers should interpret test scores cautiously, Helms suggests, until psychometricians develop more diverse procedures to address cultural concerns.

Helms' (1992) approach, or one like it, is likely to become a future trend. As observed by Reynolds, Lowe, et al. (1999), however, much of the work recommended by Helms has been well under way for several decades (for an extensive treatment, see Cronbach & Drenth, 1972; see also Hambleton, 1994; Van de Vijver & Hambleton, 1996). Reynolds et al. contend that Helms has coined new terms for old constructs and dismissed many studies already addressing the issues she raises. At best, Helms has organized and called attention to long-recognized empirical issues.

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