Buros-Nebraska Series on Measurement and Testing


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From The Influence of Cognitive Psychology on Testing, edited by Royce R. Ronning, John A. Glover, Jane C. Conoley, and Joseph C. Witt (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1987)


Copyright © 1987 Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Digital Edition Copyright © 2012 Buros Center for Testing.


The 1985 Buros-Nebraska Symposium was developed to address the broad issue of the influence of cognitive psychology on testing and measurement. In the planning process, four topics were formulated that we asked contributors to address. The following four issues provided the focus for the Symposium and hence for the present volume. We explore:

1. Cognitive psychology as a basis for questioning some of our assumptions about the nature of mental abilities;
2. The influence of cognitive psychology on test development;
3. Cognitive psychology influences on test validity;
4. Cognitive psychology as a means to provide a linkage between testing and measurement.

Each contributor, of course, responds to the four issues in a variety of ways and with differing emphases. Although examination of the chapters reveals all four issues are at least implicitly touched on, it is clear that issues one, two, and three were addressed most directly.

Why such a set of symposium themes? The explosive growth of cognitive psychology since 1950 has been widely noted. Cognitive psychologists claim a purview far beyond psychometric issues and take as their domain a rather breathtaking range of topics dealing with human behavior. For example, Donald Norman (1980) suggests the following range of topics as the domain for cognitive science: belief systems, consciousness, development, emotion, interaction, language, learning, memory, perception, performance, skill and thought. Psychometric theory and practice are now addressing the need to find methods for measuring increasingly varied and complex levels of behavior. The breadth of topics cognitive science sets out to address suggests its appropriateness as a source of information and data for examining such complex behaviors.

In 1984, Robert Sternberg (see Volume I of this series) briefly mentioned his sense that the boundaries between cognitive psychology and psychometrics are arbitrary and capricious. However, his description of the basic research strategy of the cognitive psychologist- intensive examination of performance on the particular task-suggests an important difference in perspective. It is this difference upon which the present volume capitalizes. Existing psychometric test development techniques are largely empirical, arising out of a history of test development dominated by correlational methods. These methods have led to heavy emphasis on description of tests by factor analytic techniques or examination of predictive validity. Factor analytic studies have resulted in clearer descriptions of the nature of test content and relationships among items within tests. Predictive validity studies provide an estimate of test value in predicting some external criterion. Neither perspective, however, provides information leading to clearer descriptions of the specific human behaviors upon which successful test performance is based.

In the same chapter Sternberg described the range of cognitive tasks studied by cognitive psychologists. He recognized that most of these tasks have not been used to predict conventional psychometric criteria such as grades. Nonetheless, substantial progress has been made in use of relatively novel tasks to predict general, as well as crystallized and fluid intelligence. This effort was only briefly addressed by Sternberg (1984). If a comprehensive picture of the contributions of cognitive psychology to the testing movement is to be understood and appreciated, a more substantial development of the four themes mentioned earlier must be provided.