American Community Survey (ACS) content is designed to meet the needs of federal government agencies and is a rich source of local area information useful to state, local, and tribal governments, universities, and businesses. However, constraining the content of the ACS is critical due to the mandatory reporting requirement and burden to the American people. Content tests involve the testing, research, and evaluation processes used to determine the best wording, format, and placement of proposed new questions or revisions to existing questions on the ACS. This process ensures that each new or modified question has been carefully considered, tested fully, and will collect quality data without reducing overall respondent participation. If you are interested in learning more about how a question gets added to the ACS, check out the How a Question Becomes a Part of the American Community Survey infographic.
Through the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Interagency Committee for the ACS (co-chaired by the OMB and the Census Bureau), more than thirty Federal agencies participate in the review of the ACS instrument. Proposed changes, including new content to the ACS content must meet certain criteria laid out by the OMB and the Interagency Council for Statistical Policy (ICSP) Subcomittee for the ACS. Final question wording must be vetted by ICSP Subcommittee and OMB before field testing. In general, Content Tests evaluate alternatives for questions which show some indication of a problem, for example, high missing data rates, estimates which differ systematically from other sources of the same information, or low reliability.
The methodology used for content testing is designed to be similar to ACS data collection in a regular production cycle. The Census Bureau collects data on the quality of the responses obtained in the test. Response variance, gross difference rates, item nonresponse rates, and measures of distributional changes from the regular production cases serve as indicators of the quality of the test questions relative to current ACS questions. Content testing and analysis takes place over approximately two years, so that the results are not implemented until at least two years following the date associated with the content test.