Buros-Nebraska Series on Measurement and Testing


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Published in The Future of Testing, edited by Barbara S. Plake & Joseph C. Witt (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1986).


Copyright © 1986 by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Digital edition copyright © 2012 Buros Center for Testing. This book may be downloaded, saved, and printed by an individual for their own use. No part of this book may be re-published, re-posted, or redistributed without written permission of the holder of copyright.


Forecasting future directions is at best a risky business. Few can claim to see with confidence the shape of things to come. In addition, the issues related to the future directions of educational achievement and ability testing are broad and numerous. They range from such important, but difficult to forecast, areas as the national mood toward education and educational accountability, legislation and the political arena, and court rulings to theoretical and technological advances. However, instead of providing a survey of possible futures resulting from these diverse and numerous potential influences, this chapter focuses on two areas of overriding importance in considering these future directions. The two areas to be addressed are: (a) the evolving conceptual understanding of the nature of the achievement and ability constructs, and (b) the opportunities afforded by advances in computer technology.

The chapter begins with a brief review of the current status of such testing to establish a context for the consideration of these two central issues and their implications for the future. It then turns, first, to the conceptual directions likely to evolve from changes in the familiar ability and achievement constructs and, second, to some of the implications of computer technology for testing in the future.


A Recent Period of Criticism

To examine the current status of educational testing, it is necessary to recognize that the period from the late 1960s through the 1970s was a time of intense criticism of standardized testing. During this period of increased social awareness, test score differences between groups were attributed quickly to bias in tests, particularly when the major alternative explanation under debate was hereditary differences in intelligence between groups (Jensen, 1969). Access to education and appropriate employment for minority applicants was one major objective of the civil rights movement and often tests were viewed as tools which stood in the way of such access. The courts were asked to judge the appropriateness of tests and test use and tests became central in several court rulings. When the concern with citizen rights made its way into the market place and the consumer movement began in earnest, the result was calls for “truth in testing, “which was implemented in some states basically as a requirement for periodic public disclosure of the content of major tests.

As this time of criticism blossomed, testing specialists were in the forefront both criticizing and defending tests in the public and professional literature and seeking ways to improve them. Measurement specialists began to examine with a new seriousness the possibility of test bias. The professional literature contains hundreds of studies conducted during this period (e.g., see Cole, 198 1, 1983) which address technical approaches and substantive issues of bias. It became common for manuals of educational tests to routinely address the issue of bias. More measurement professionals began to disassociate themselves from arguments that test score differences necessarily reflect hereditary differences and in so doing emphasized with new vigor the effects of educationally related experience on educational ability tests. In addition, many test developers began to adopt a more critical view of their tests in preparation for disclosure and other forms of public scrutiny- to view them as an interested public might- and in so doing discovered a number of small ways of improving test content.