Sunday, March 17, 2019

Statistics Sunday: Standardized Tests in Light of Public Scandal

No doubt, by now, you've heard about the large-scale investigation into college admissions scandals among the wealthy - a scandal that suggests SAT scores, among other things, can in essence be bought. Eliza Shapiro and Dana Goldstein of the NY Times ask if this scandal is "the last straw" for tests like the SAT.

To clarify in advance, I do not nor have I ever worked for the Educational Testing Service or for any organization involved in admissions testing. But as a psychometrician, I have a vested interest in this industry. And I became a psychometrician because of my philosophy: that many things, including ability, achievement, and college preparedness, can be objectively measured if certain procedures and methods are followed. If the methods and procedures are not followed properly in a particular case, the measurement in that case is invalid. That is what happens when a student (or more likely, their parent) pays someone else to take the SAT for them, or bribes a proctor, or finds an "expert" willing to sign off on a disability the student does not have to get extra accommodations.

But because that particular instance of measurement is invalid doesn't damn the entire field to invalidity. It just means we have to work harder. Better vetting of proctors, advances in testing like computerized adaptive testing and new item types... all of this is to help counteract outside variables that threaten the validity of measurement. And expansions in the field of data forensics now include examining anomalous patterns in testing, to identify if some form of dishonesty has taken place - allowing scores to be rescinded or otherwise declared invalid after the fact.

This is a field I feel strongly about, and as I said, really sums up my philosophy in life for the value of measurement. Today, I'm on my way to the Association of Test Publishers Innovations in Testing 2019 meeting in Orlando. I'm certain this recent scandal will be a frequent topic at the conference, and a rallying cry for better protection of exam material and better methods for identifying suspicious testing behavior. Public trust in our field is on the line. It is our job to regain that trust.

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