Various studies have shown the difficulty of translating concepts related to country-specific programs for use in surveys. Questions about educational attainment are an example of a concept that is very difficult to translate for use with respondents from different national origins. This is particularly the case for Spanish-speaking respondents in the United States, who come from a variety of different countries where educational systems are different not only from the U.S. system but from each other as well. This paper presents results from the cognitive testing of the Spanish translation of educational level questions in the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). Two iterative rounds of cognitive testing were conducted on a series of educational level questions with 46 Spanish-speaking respondents from 11 different countries. We found that Spanish speakers interpreted many of the educational level categories differently from what was intended. For example, Mexican-origin respondents interpreted “escuela secundaria,” the original translation used for “high school,” to correspond to nine years of schooling, while in the U.S. completing high school corresponds to 12 years of schooling. Similarly, while the translation for “bachelor’s degree” or “bachiller universitario,” was interpreted appropriately by Puerto Rican Spanish speakers, this was not the case among respondents from Argentina, Mexico, Colombia and Nicaragua. In these Latin American countries the term “bachillerato” is used to describe either junior high school or high school. Both of these translations could result in upward biases in reports of immigrant educational levels since both misinterpretations involve respondents reporting lower levels of education as higher ones. We discuss various approaches taken to deal with the comprehension differences and the extent to which these were successful. The paper concludes with a discussion of implications for the translation and testing of educational levels and other country specific programs, and provides recommendations for future research.
Leticia Fernández, Patricia Goerman, and Rosanna Quiroz. (2011). Translation of Survey Items on Country Specific Programs: The Case of Translating U.S. Educational Level Questions into Spanish. Research and Methodology Directorate, Center for Survey Measurement Study Series (Survey Methodology #2012-05). U.S. Census Bureau. Available online at <http://www.census.gov/srd/papers/pdf/ssm2012-05.pdf>.