Psychometrics is a field of study concerned with the theory and technique of psychological measurement. As defined by National Council on Measurement in Education (NCME), psychometrics refers to psychological measurement. Generally, it refers to the field in psychology and education that is devoted to testing, measurement, assessment, and related activities. One part of the field is concerned with the objective measurement of skills and knowledge, abilities, attitudes, personality traits, and educational achievement. For example, some psychometric researchers have, thus far, concerned themselves with the construction and validation of assessment instruments such as questionnaires, tests, raters' judgments, and personality tests. Another part of the field is concerned with statistical research bearing on measurement theory (e.g., item response theory; intraclass correlation).
As a result of these focuses, psychometric research involves two major tasks: (i) the construction of instruments; and (ii) the development of procedures for measurement. Practitioners are described as psychometricians. Psychometricians usually possess a specific qualification, and most are psychologists with advanced graduate training. In addition to traditional academic institutions, many psychometricians work for the government or in human resources departments. Others specialize as learning and development professionals.
Psychological testing has come from two streams of thought: the first, from Darwin, Galton, and Cattell on the measurement of individual differences, and the second, from Herbart, Weber, Fechner, and Wundt and their psychophysical measurements of a similar construct. The second set of individuals and their research is what has led to the development of experimental psychology, and standardized testing.
Charles Darwin was the inspiration behind Sir Francis Galton who led to the creation of psychometrics. In 1859, Darwin published his book "The Origin of Species", which pertained to individual differences in animals. This book discussed how individual members in a species differ and how they possess characteristics that are more adaptive and successful or less adaptive and less successful. Those who are adaptive and successful are the ones that survive and give way to the next generation, who would be just as or more adaptive and successful. This idea, studied previously in animals, led to Galton's interest and study of human beings and how they differ one from another, and more importantly, how to measure those differences.
Galton wrote a book entitled "Hereditary Genius" about different characteristics that people possess and how those characteristics make them more "fit" than others. Today these differences, such as sensory and motor functioning (reaction time, visual acuity, and physical strength) are important domains of scientific psychology. Much of the early theoretical and applied work in psychometrics was undertaken in an attempt to measure intelligence. Galton, often referred to as "the father of psychometrics," devised and included mental tests among his anthropometric measures. James McKeen Cattell, who is considered a pioneer of psychometrics went on to extend Galton's work. Cattell also coined the term mental test, and is responsible for the research and knowledge which ultimately led to the development of modern tests. (Kaplan & Saccuzzo, 2010)
The origin of psychometrics also has connections to the related field of psychophysics. Around the same time that Darwin, Galton, and Cattell were making their discoveries, Herbart was also interested in "unlocking the mysteries of human consciousness" through the scientific method. (Kaplan & Saccuzzo, 2010) Herbart was responsible for creating mathematical models of the mind, which were influential in educational practices in years to come.
E.H. Weber built upon Herbart's work and tried to prove the existence of a psychological threshold, saying that a minimum stimulus was necessary to activate a sensory system. After Weber, G.T. Fechner expanded upon the knowledge he gleaned from Herbart and Weber, to devise the law that the strength of a sensation grows as the logarithm of the stimulus intensity. A follower of Weber and Fechner, Wilhelm Wundt is credited with founding the science of psychology. It is Wundt's influence that paved the way for others to develop psychological testing.
More recently, psychometric theory has been applied in the measurement of personality, attitudes, and beliefs, and academic achievement. Measurement of these unobservable phenomena is difficult, and much of the research and accumulated science in this discipline has been developed in an attempt to properly define and quantify such phenomena. Critics, including practitioners in the physical sciences and social activists, have argued that such definition and quantification is impossibly difficult, and that such measurements are often misused, such as with psychometric personality tests used in employment procedures:
For example, an employer wanting someone for a role requiring consistent attention to repetitive detail will probably not want to give that job to someone who is very creative and gets bored easily.
Figures who made significant contributions to psychometrics include Karl Pearson, Henry F. Kaiser, Carl Brigham, L. L. Thurstone, Anne Anastasi, Georg Rasch, Eugene Galanter, Johnson O'Connor, Frederic M. Lord, Ledyard R Tucker, Arthur Jensen, and David Andrich.
Definition of measurement in the social sciences
The definition of measurement in the social sciences has a long history. A currently widespread definition, proposed by Stanley Smith Stevens (1946), is that measurement is "the assignment of numerals to objects or events according to some rule." This definition was introduced in the paper in which Stevens proposed four levels of measurement. Although widely adopted, this definition differs in important respects from the more classical definition of measurement adopted in the physical sciences, namely that scientific measurement entails "the estimation or discovery of the ratio of some magnitude of a quantitative attribute to a unit of the same attribute" (p. 358)
Indeed, Stevens's definition of measurement was put forward in response to the British Ferguson Committee, whose chair, A. Ferguson, was a physicist. The committee was appointed in 1932 by the British Association for the Advancement of Science to investigate the possibility of quantitatively estimating sensory events. Although its chair and other members were physicists, the committee also included several psychologists. The committee's report highlighted the importance of the definition of measurement. While Stevens's response was to propose a new definition, which has had considerable influence in the field, this was by no means the only response to the report. Another, notably different, response was to accept the classical definition, as reflected in the following statement:
Measurement in psychology and physics are in no sense different. Physicists can measure when they can find the operations by which they may meet the necessary criteria; psychologists have but to do the same. They need not worry about the mysterious differences between the meaning of measurement in the two sciences. (Reese, 1943, p. 49)
These divergent responses are reflected in alternative approaches to measurement. For example, methods based on covariance matrices are typically employed on the premise that numbers, such as raw scores derived from assessments, are measurements. Such approaches implicitly entail Stevens's definition of measurement, which requires only that numbers are assignedaccording to some rule. The main research task, then, is generally considered to be the discovery of associations between scores, and of factors posited to underlie such associations.
On the other hand, when measurement models such as the Rasch model are employed, numbers are not assigned based on a rule. Instead, in keeping with Reese's statement above, specific criteria for measurement are stated, and the goal is to construct procedures or operations that provide data that meet the relevant criteria. Measurements are estimated based on the models, and tests are conducted to ascertain whether the relevant criteria have been met.
Instruments and procedures
The firstpsychometric instruments were designed to measure the concept of intelligence. One historical approach involved the Stanford-Binet IQ test, developed originally by the French psychologist Alfred Binet. Intelligence tests are useful tools for various purposes. An alternative conception of intelligence is that cognitive capacities within individuals are a manifestation of a general component, or general intelligence factor, as well as cognitive capacity specific to a given domain.
Psychometrics is applied widely in educational assessment to measure abilities in domains such as reading, writing, and mathematics. The main approaches in applying tests in these domains have been Classical Test Theory and the more recent Item Response Theory and Rasch measurement models. These latter approaches permit joint scaling of persons and assessment items, which provides a basis for mapping of developmental continua by allowing descriptions of the skills displayed at various points along a continuum.
Another major focus in psychometrics has been on personality testing. There have been a range of theoretical approaches to conceptualizing and measuring personality. Some of the better known instruments include the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, the Five-Factor Model (or "Big 5") and tools such as Personality and Preference Inventory and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Attitudes have also been studied extensively using psychometric approaches. A common method in the measurement of attitudes is the use of the Likert scale. An alternative method involves the application of unfolding measurement models, the most general being the Hyperbolic Cosine Model (Andrich & Luo, 1993).
Psychometricians have developed a number of different measurement theories. These include classical test theory (CTT) and item response theory (IRT). An approach which seems mathematically to be similar to IRT but also quite distinctive, in terms of its origins and features, is represented by the Rasch model for measurement. The development of the Rasch model, and the broader class of models to which it belongs, was explicitly founded on requirements of measurement in the physical sciences.
Psychometricians have also developed methods for working with large matrices of correlations and covariances. Techniques in this general tradition include: factor analysis, a method of determining the underlying dimensions of data; multidimensional scaling, a method for finding a simple representation for data with a large number of latent dimensions; and data clustering, an approach to finding objects that are like each other. All these multivariate descriptive methods try to distill large amounts of data into simpler structures. More recently, structural equation modeling and path analysis represent more sophisticated approaches to working with large covariance matrices. These methods allow statistically sophisticated models to be fitted to data and tested to determine if they are adequate fits.
One of the main deficiencies in various factor analyses is a lack of consensus in cutting points for determining the number of latent factors. A usual procedure is to stop factoring when eigenvalues drop below one because the original sphere shrinks. The lack of the cutting points concerns other multivariate methods, also.
Key concepts in classical test theory are reliability and validity. A reliable measure is one that measures a construct consistently across time, individuals, and situations. A valid measure is one that measures what it is intended to measure. Reliability is necessary, but not sufficient, for validity.
Both reliability and validity can be assessed statistically. Consistency over repeated measures of the same test can be assessed with the Pearson correlation coefficient, and is often called test-retest reliability. Similarly, the equivalence of different versions of the same measure can be indexed by a Pearson correlation, and is called equivalent forms reliability or a similar term. According to leading experts, test bias may cause differences in average scores across demographic groups, but differences in group scores are not sufficient evidence that test bias is actually present because the test could be measuring real differences among groups. Psychometricians use sophisticated scientific methods to search for test bias and eliminate it. Research shows that it is usually impossible for people reading a test item to accurately determine whether it is biased or not.
Standards of quality
The considerations of validity and reliability typically are viewed as essential elements for determining the quality of any test. However, professional and practitioner associations frequently have placed these concerns within broader contexts when developing standards and making overall judgments about the quality of any test as a whole within a given context. A consideration of concern in many applied research settings is whether or not the metric of a given psychological inventory is meaningful or arbitrary.
In 2014, the American Educational Research Association (AERA), American Psychological Association (APA), and National Council on Measurement in Education (NCME) published a revision of the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing, which describes standards for test development, evaluation, and use. The Standards cover essential topics in testing including validity, reliability/errors of measurement, and fairness in testing. The book also establishes standards related to testing operations including test design and development, scores, scales, norms, score linking, cut scores, test administration, scoring, reporting, score interpretation, test documentation, and rights and responsibilities of test takers and test users. Finally, the Standards cover topics related to testing applications, including psychological testing and assessment, workplace testing and credentialing, educational testing and assessment, and testing in program evaluation and public policy.
In the field of evaluation, and in particular educational evaluation, the Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation has published three sets of standards for evaluations. The Personnel Evaluation Standards was published in 1988, The Program Evaluation Standards (2nd edition) was published in 1994, and The Student Evaluation Standards was published in 2003.
Each publication presents and elaborates a set of standards for use in a variety of educational settings. The standards provide guidelines for designing, implementing, assessing and improving the identified form of evaluation. Each of the standards has been placed in one of four fundamental categories to promote educational evaluations that are proper, useful, feasible, and accurate. In these sets of standards, validity and reliability considerations are covered under the accuracy topic. For example, the student accuracy standards help ensure that student evaluations will provide sound, accurate, and credible information about student learning and performance.