Ability Testing in the 1980's and Beyond: Some Major Trends

By Anastasi, Anne | Public Personnel Management, Winter 1989 | Go to article overview

Ability Testing in the 1980's and Beyond: Some Major Trends


Anastasi, Anne, Public Personnel Management


Ability Testing in the 1980's and Beyond: Some Major Trends

This article is the complete text of the keynote address delivered at the 1989 International Personnel Management Association Assessment Council Conference, held in Orlando, Florida.

In this article, Anastasi discusses the magnitude of changes in psychologicaltesting and the rapidity of their development. She described trends taking place in three categories: the role of the test user, technical methodology of test construction, and substantiveinterpretation of test scores. The focus on the test user emphasizes efforts to correct the misuses of tests by unqualified persons in education, industry, clinical practice, and other applied settings. Anastasi reviews the importance of test users having knowledge about the statistical properties of test scores, the psychological characteristics of the behavior assessed, and confirmatory data from other sources, in order to make an adequately informed sustantive interpretation of test scores.

The increasing emphasis on qualified test users has in no way diminished the concern for psychometrically sound instruments. Anastasi outlines approaches to the development of valid test through multiple procedures, which are employed sequentially, at different stages of test construction. Several examples describe special techniques for local validation purposes, The contribution of validity generalization, item response theory, and adaptive testing are reviewed. Subjective interpretation of test scores requires knowledge about the behavior domain assessed by the test. Many current misuses and misinterpretations of test scores result from erroneous or outdated knowledge about human behavior. Proper interpretation of test scores are examined in relation to real-life contexts - both past and present- within the framework of cultural diversity.

As I look at what is happening in testing today, I am impressed by both the magnitude of the changes and the rapidity of their development. In contrast to earlier decades, the pace has increased spectacularly, and the changes tend to be basic rather than superficial. For both reasons, it is likely that the trends we see emerging today provide a preview of what testing will be like in the decades ahead.

In my efforts to touch on the highlights of these changes, I have chosen a few developments that I consider particularly significant. These developments fall quite naturally under three major headings: the role of the test user, technical methodology of test construction, and substantive interpretation of test scores.

A conspicuous recent trend in mental testing is the increasing recognition of the part played by the test user. Common criticisms of testing and popular antitest reactions are often directed, not to characteristics of the tests, but to misuses of the tests in the hands of inadequately qualified users in education, industry, clinical practice, and other applied contexts. Many of these misuses stem from a desire for shortcuts, quick answers, and simple routine solutions for real-life problems. All too often, the decision-making responsibility is shifted to the test. The test user loses sight of the fact that tests are tools, serving as valuable aids to the skilled practitioner, but useless or misleading when improperly used.

The increasing focus on the responsibility of the test user in evidenced in the successive editions of the test standards published by the American Psychological Association and prepared jointly with two other associations concerned with testing (American Educational Research Association and National Council on Measurement in Education). In the successive editions published in 1954, 1966, and 1974, increasing attention was devoted to test use. The role of the test user becomes especially prominent in the latest edition (published in 1985), where it is demonstrated in several ways. The title has now been changed from Standards for Educational and Psychological Tests to Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing. …

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