Reflections on the Promise of Cultural Validity in Assessment ELISE T R UMBU L L , MARíA DEL ROSARIO BASTERRA , A ND
The goal of cultural validity in assessment arises from the desire for (1) better information about how well our schools are doing in educating students (accountability); (2) information about student progress that can inform teachers and students (instructional planning); and (3) policies and practices that are fair and do not wrongly foreclose opportunities for students (equity). As SolanoFlores (Chapter 1, this volume) says, accounting for how sociocultural influences affect the way students learn and make sense of the world (and assessments are part of our world!) is not a simple task-perhaps a task never fully achieved-yet we do have theory and research from several domains to guide us in the effort. Many, if not most, researchers and psychometricians working on improving the assessment of diversity of populations believe that the performance gap between culturally and ethnically “mainstream” students who speak English as a home language and other students is due at least in part to the failure to achieve cultural validity. Abedi (Chapter 3, this volume) notes that despite a rigorous process intended to avoid bias, standardized assessments are still less sound for ELLs-implicating linguistic and cultural differences. Of course, opportunity to learn is also an important source of performance differences; it, in turn, is associated with other factors, particularly socioeconomic status (SES). Lower SES families are disproportionately from racial, ethnic, and linguistic “non-mainstream” backgrounds; and their children often attend the schools least able to provide rich opportunities to learn. That is not a deterministic reality, however. As Lee, Santau, and Maerten-Rivera (Chapter 11, this volume) show, when strong instruction appropriate for the specific population of students is combined with well-designed assessment, the gap between ELLs and non-ELLs can disappear.