Developing high quality instruments to measure educationally relevant goals
What is the purpose of schooling in American society? Empirical research studies that my colleagues and I have conducted show that American schools tend to have a broad mission. Yet, various sources of evidence, including state constitutions, legal court precedent, and school mission statements all converge on at least five major purposes of schooling:
- Cognitive development
- Social development
- Emotional development
- Civic development
- Vocational development
Curiously, despite the fact that various sources of evidence point to the importance of developing a broad range of student abilities, current accountability systems in the United States tend to have as their centerpiece standardized tests that capture only one of these five dimensions (cognitive). Indeed, many students across the nation will face graduation and promotion decisions that are tied to their performance on a single, cognitively based standardized test.
Although I do not fundamentally oppose the use of standardized cognitive achievement tests, I believe that these tests should be used as only one part of a more comprehensive accountability system that incorporates assessments of student development in other areas that are equally relevant to the mission of public schooling.
Perhaps one reason for the intense focus on measures of cognitive achievement may be that the field of measurement and testing (known as psychometrics) has focused most of its energies in the past 100 years on developing and refining tests for assessing cognitive development.
In addition, there may be some who would argue against the idea of measuring social or emotional development in students, saying that these constructs are too fuzzy to capture using traditional testing methods. I disagree. Recent research has emerged in the past 20 years that suggests that "non-traditional constructs" such as emotional intelligence can be measured as reliably as cognitive achievement; however, there is still room for improving our measurement of these broader constructs.
Thus, my research program is aimed at advancing the development of scientifically-based and psychometrically sound instruments for assessing broader constructs related to the important purposes of schooling.
“Measurement without Theory is Blind; Theory without Measurement
— Steve Stemler
The above quote summarizes the lab's philosophy of science. We believe that theory and measurement are fundamentally inseparable. Thus, in order to truly advance our scientific understanding of any idea (or construct) a theory must be put to the test by precise measurement of relevant constructs. Similarly, the construction of tests must be based on sound theory in order for the results to have any meaning that advances our scientific understanding of a phenomenon.