Intelligence assessment of culturally and linguistically diverse children


Assessment of intelligence or cognitive abilities has long been a controversial issue due to the unclear definition of intelligence, the innate bias of standardized assessment tests, and the relationship between the scores on intelligence and achievement tests. Apart from those general problems another issue with intelligence assessment represents the assessment of children from ethnic minority groups with culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) background compared to the general population of the country of living.

Psychologists, especially from the USA, have long been pointing out that the reason for lower intelligence scores of CLD children and their overrepresentation in special education and underrepresentation in gifted education is related to the unfair assessment of minority children because of the use of tests with biased or culturally-loaded items intended for the general population. In order to be culturally fair to different ethnic groups psychologists who are engaged in intelligence assessment (and psychological assessment in general) of CLD children should take into account the different developmental, cultural, and linguistic background of the children. A culturally fair intelligence assessment would follow all general rules for a non-discriminatory assessment but would also specifically focus on the selection of an instrument which is appropriate for the assessment of children with different cultural backgrounds and on the culture/language of the psychologist. Intelligence tests which are suitable for the assessment of CLD children are nonverbal tests which do not require verbal communication between the psychologist and the child during the assessment and are also intentionally free of items relying on the active or passive understanding of a given language, or tests which are adapted to or specifically developed for a given ethnic group. For example, a test suitable for the evaluation of Hispanic American children would be developed in Spanish and standardized with a sample of children who belong to the mentioned ethnic group. The psychologist should speak the native or dominant language of the child, if possible, or the assessment should follow with the help of a trained interpreter.

The issue of culturally and linguistically fair assessment of children is also especially important in evaluating language proficiency and specific language disorders. Psychologists and speech therapists should be aware of the diverse background of the child, if any, in order to reduce the possibility to falsely diagnose the child with a language or speech disorder in cases of immigrant or minority children who are not proficient in the language of the country of living.

The issue of culturally fair assessment was raised in the USA decades ago but with so many children being born in immigrant families and raised in a country different of the country of origin of their parents it has probably never been more important.


Recommended reading:

Artiles, J. A. & Trent, C. S. (1994). Overrepresentation of minority students in special education: A continuing debate. The Journal of Special Education, 27 (4), 410-437.

Council of National Psychological Associations for the Advancement of Ethnic Minority Interests. (2016). Testing and assessment with persons & communities of color. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Retrieved from

Ford, D. Y. (2004). Intelligence testing and cultural diversity: Concerns, cautions and considerations (RM04204). Storrs, CT: The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, University of Connecticut.