Buros-Nebraska Series on Measurement and Testing


Date of this Version


Document Type



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.


One of the greatest needs in psychology today is the establishment of more rigorous psychological measurement practices in the millions of work settings throughout the country. Today, any semblance of precise measurement appears to be limited to the largest of employers. Only the biggest corporations and the major governmental units , such as those in the federal government, have the scientific staffs to conduct the research and development work necessary to provide the type of measurement that is so needed.

Psychological measurement in work settings has a profound effect upon American society. Indeed, it affects almost all citizens' lives. Employees, job seekers, and their families all , to some extent, have their lives shaped by the psychological measurement practices of employers. How a breadwinner is appraised in a job application or a performance evaluation situation may have an impact on many lives. What job one works in, and even whether one works at all , are all decided mainly on the basis of some psychological measurement, however imperfect. The indirect effects of measurement also must be considered; many of those who have power over us , e.g., supervisors or government officials, were measured in some way when they were selected for their jobs, and also, they remain in their jobs as a result of some application of measurement.

The implications of psychological measurement in the workplace for the educational system cannot be lightly dismissed. Obviously, one major function of education is to prepare students for work and careers. Only through measurement in employment settings can the critical abilities and skills necessary to develop educational curricula be designated and defined. Only then can students be adequately prepared.

The relationship between psychological measurement and the economic health of the country is more nebulous, but probably should be considered to be more than nominal. The well-documented productivity declines of the 1970s were not entirely explainable by typical economic measures, such as amount invested in research and development (Dennis, 1979). The productivity of the individual worker may well have been partially responsible for this decline, and hence , by implication , the methods by which he or she was selected for and retained in the job may well have played a part.

One may well ask why, if measurement in the workplace has so many potential effects in our society, it has not been a subject of great concern in employing organizations. The answers do not emerge readily. There is probably no single explanation for the general lack of precise measurement in the employing community . Certainly , the legal climate for measurement is considered inhospitable by many employers . Results of a recent survey (Bureau of National Affairs, 1983) indicate that the little employee selection testing which has been going on is on the decline. It appears that about 5% to 9% of employers are doing any testing at all. Employers who are dropping testing have indicated that they are doing so because of fear of litigation . However, fear of legal difficulties is only a part of the story. The abuses of testing in business several decades ago became part of American folklore, mainly as a result of the activities of popular writers (Hoffman, 1962; Whyte, 1956). Despite the fact that the lay criticism was mainly of personality inventories, a dark cloud fell over all testing by employers. Many business people began to speak of testing in terms usually reserved for activities such as examining the entrails of birds. Unfortunately, those employers who did continue testing often did so without benefit of validation research. This type of testing culminated in a U. S. Supreme Court decision (Griggs v. Duke Power Company, 1971) , which mandated a demonstration of job relatedness for any test having a disparate impact upon a minority group . The response to this decision and the many court decisions and administrative actions that have followed was two-fold. Most employers, troubled by the bad reputation of testing , coupled with the possibility of legal difficulties, fled from testing . At the other extreme, a few major employers began utilizing testing research staffs and tried to meet the provisions of the law. Thus, the situation we have today with less than 10% of employers testing (Bureau of National Affairs, 1983) has come to prevail. Most employees are selected by interviews and reference checks, both of which are usually of uncertain validity.