Postmodern Test Theory
by Robert J. Mislevy — 2014
Background/Context: This article explains the idea of a neopragmatic postmodernist test theory and offers some thoughts about what changing notions concerning the nature of and meanings assigned to knowledge imply for educational assessment, present and future.
Purpose: Advances in the learning sciences—particularly situative and sociocognitive stances—call into question the adequacy of the trait and behaviorist psychological perspectives under which educational measurement evolved. This article argues nevertheless that its models and methods, appropriately reconceived and extended as necessary, can be useful in assessment framed in a contemporary view of learning.
Research Design: This is an analytic essay.
Conclusions/Recommendations: The model-based reasoning that characterizes test theory is useful not because it measures extant traits defined and evidenced in the same way for all students, but because it helps us organize our thinking, marshal and interpret evidence, and communicate our inferences and their grounding to others. A skeptical attitude about models in assessment makes our uses of them more flexible, more powerful, and, ultimately, more effective at meeting and fulfilling the aims of education than they would be if we believed that they accurately captured the totality of the phenomenon. Our understandings of students’ learning and programs’ effects are enriched by multiple perspectives and diverse sources of evidence, some new or previously neglected but others with familiar (albeit reconceived) forms.
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