Assessing Intercultural Competence in K-12 Contexts: These are a Few of My Favorite Things

Dr. Katherine N. Yngve, Purdue University, Center for Intercultural Learning, Mentorship, Assessment and Research (CILMAR) & Office of Institutional Data Analysis + Assessment (IDATA)
November 11, 2020
Assessing Intercultural Competence in K-12 Contexts: These are a Few of My Favorite Things

In a prior job incarnation, I was a recruiter for a large university study abroad provider, it was my duty to recruit study abroad students in college towns at study abroad fairs across a nine-state region in the American Midwest. At the end of each event, the local study abroad officer(s) would nearly always suggest a post-work gathering of fellow study abroad professionals. Invariably, the location suggested for these gatherings would be the most “international” or “multi-ethnic” restaurant in the vicinity.  Very seldom did the local liaison suggest a large chain restaurant, burger joint, or pizza place; if such choices were all that a small-college locale had to offer, said liaison was generally a little apologetic about it.

What does this have to do with assessing intercultural competence? In 2009, in the International Journal of Intercultural Relations, a study by two scholars of nutrition and hospitality was published, demonstrating a correlation between food behaviors and standardized personality measures of openness to experience such as the Big Five Personality Index. In other words, as my study abroad colleagues were inadvertently demonstrating, one way of assessing the intercultural competence of a given population is by tracking where people choose to go for dinner in relation to their own culture(s) around food. In a similar vein, the nutrition scholars’ Food Attitudes and Behaviors Survey is a great, short assessment tool for opening up discussions about willingness or reluctance to share hospitality across cultures.

Most Personality Quizzes Are Junk Science. Take One That Isn’t,” one of the resources available in the GEBG K-12 Special Assessment Collection.

As you might deduce from the above, I am a big proponent of assessing behaviors, an under-utilized intercultural assessment technique. For this purpose, I adapted Ruben’s behavioral inventory of intercultural competence (1976) among other tools to create Yngve’s Behavioral Rubric, which allows one to categorize observations according to aspects of effective and appropriate cross-cultural behaviors; including respect, empathy, and tolerance of ambiguity.

Yet, no matter how distinguished the research behind behavior-based assessment, there will always be individuals who find observations of humankind to be unpersuasive data or who seek broad generalizability and need the larger sample sizes that surveys can facilitate. To address this need, I would recommend two very different survey instruments, both rigorously validated with large samples of high-school-age subjects: the Intercultural Effectiveness Scale (IES) or the Global Citizenship Inventory for Adolescents.  What is the difference between the two?  Well for one thing, they measure different constructs:

  • Intercultural effectiveness is “… a set of cognitive, affective, and behavioral skills and characteristics that support effective and appropriate interpersonal interaction in a variety of cultural contexts” (AAC&U, 2009).
  • Global competence, on the other hand, is the ability to critically analyze and “…engage with complex, interdependent global systems… in order to address the world’s most pressing and enduring issues collaboratively and equitably” (AAC&U, 2009).

In other words, it would be hard to practice global competence without first having developed the interpersonal skills of intercultural effectiveness.  So, which tool might be of use in your K-12 situation? According to intercultural competence scholar Alvino Fantini, alignment of learning objectives, curriculum and instrument is critical: otherwise, sub-optimal learning occurs. On the other hand, since one of these survey instruments is cost-free, and the other (the IES) can be obtained free of charge if they approve one’s research plan, there is no particular reason not to try both. Of the two, I have a slight preference for the IES, since it focuses on skills, rather than competencies and comes with an action-planning guide that can be used for peer-to-peer or instructor mentoring. In other words, unlike some instruments, it is intentionally designed not to make your learners feel bad that they are not yet fully competent; and can be used for both formative and summative assessment. What could be better than that?

All of the above ways of measuring intercultural or global competence are catalogued (along with about 65 others) at the Intercultural Learning Hub, at, where anyone can create a free account to access these resources.  In addition, a special collection of instruments vetted for K-12 contexts, along with a starter set of aligned learning activities, has been curated on the site for GEGB members in the GEBG K-12 Special Assessment Collection “Members Only” Group. You can access this special curation of resources by emailing or by creating a free account on the Intercultural Learning Hub and requesting access to the private Group. Questions about either can be sent to or  Enjoy your assessment adventures!

Cited Resources:

  1. About “Big Five” Personality Traits: or
  2. Intercultural Learning Hub:
  3. GEBG K-12 Special Assessment Collection “Members Only” Group:
  4. AAC&U definitions of Intercultural Effectiveness & Global Competence from the rubrics of the same name: .
  5. Purdue Center for Intercultural Learning, Mentorship, Assessment & Research:
  6. Fantini, Assessing Intercultural Competence (in High-School Mobility Contexts):