A Valedictory: Reflections on 60 Years in Educational Testing

Lee J. Cronbach

When this talk was first proposed, it was to consist of casual reminiscences of the olden days. “Valedictory” means “hail and farewell.” I was going to convey how glad I am to see others fight the testing battles. You and I were going to have the pleasure of sharing reminiscences. I have worked with one or another member of the board on so many projects that, among you, you could pretty much write the last 30 years of my professional biography. The plan for lightsome retrospection did not hold up. Measurement specialists live in interesting times, and there are important matters to talk about. I shall still draw on past experience extending back to my first involvement with a national educational assessment in 1939, but my topic is clear and present dangers.

THE WAY TO THE EGRESS

We all know that it is wise to phase in retirement gradually. What no one told me is how easily retirement gets phased out. It was about 1982 or 1983 that I signed out of the National Research Council (NRC). I told Dave Goslin [then Executive

LEE J. CRONBACH

Lee J. Cronbach, psychologist and educator, is the Vida Jacks professor of education, emeritus, at Stanford University. A native of California, he received the AB from Fresno State College in 1934, the MA from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1937, and the PhD from the University of Chicago in 1940. Although early in his career he held various teaching positions at the State College of Washington, the University of Chicago, and the University of Illinois, he has been a member of the faculty at Stanford since 1966. His definitive textbook, Essentials of Psychological Testing, was first published in 1949; the fifth edition was published in 1990. Cronbach was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1974.



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A Valedictory: Reflections on 60 Years in Educational Testing A Valedictory: Reflections on 60 Years in Educational Testing Lee J. Cronbach When this talk was first proposed, it was to consist of casual reminiscences of the olden days. “Valedictory” means “hail and farewell.” I was going to convey how glad I am to see others fight the testing battles. You and I were going to have the pleasure of sharing reminiscences. I have worked with one or another member of the board on so many projects that, among you, you could pretty much write the last 30 years of my professional biography. The plan for lightsome retrospection did not hold up. Measurement specialists live in interesting times, and there are important matters to talk about. I shall still draw on past experience extending back to my first involvement with a national educational assessment in 1939, but my topic is clear and present dangers. THE WAY TO THE EGRESS We all know that it is wise to phase in retirement gradually. What no one told me is how easily retirement gets phased out. It was about 1982 or 1983 that I signed out of the National Research Council (NRC). I told Dave Goslin [then Executive LEE J. CRONBACH Lee J. Cronbach, psychologist and educator, is the Vida Jacks professor of education, emeritus, at Stanford University. A native of California, he received the AB from Fresno State College in 1934, the MA from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1937, and the PhD from the University of Chicago in 1940. Although early in his career he held various teaching positions at the State College of Washington, the University of Chicago, and the University of Illinois, he has been a member of the faculty at Stanford since 1966. His definitive textbook, Essentials of Psychological Testing, was first published in 1949; the fifth edition was published in 1990. Cronbach was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1974.

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A Valedictory: Reflections on 60 Years in Educational Testing Director, Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education] that, after serving simultaneously on two or three of his committees, I had used up the kind of energy NRC requires. I did keep in touch with the broad testing field down to 1990; then I brought out the last edition of my textbook, and told the publisher I was through with the field. Almost immediately, I was captured by an invitation to serve as an expert in an employment law case. A piece of research was under fire (not my own research) that I had championed in print. So I was happy to join in the defense. The terms are interesting: while the computer expert and I reworked the original data to address questions raised by the plaintiffs, my identity was to be kept secret. That way, plaintiffs would not know whom to subpoena if they were able to think up embarrassing questions. It was only after the lawyers reviewed my report and saw in it welcome news that I rose from the shadows to the expert witness list. Until then my assignment as consulting expert was to find out what was in the data. The stance of the lawyers was: “we need to know of any evidence that supports the plaintiffs before they do, so we can prepare a defense.” It was a request for a candid private report, not a bribe. I got a few days' pay as expert witness. But the facts were so convincing that the other party settled out of court, and I didn't get to enjoy my higher status for long. I got out of that rather demanding job and was relaxing into retirement. Then I was asked to join a group headed by Dick Elmore to advise a foundation on how to make a better investment out of the New Standards Project, a novel educational assessment they were sponsoring. That was a brief and pleasant activity. But then the foundation put its heft behind a recommendation I had sold to Dick's committee: that the New Standards Project should be careful, from its earliest days, to check on the technical quality of its instruments and reports. So I was not in a good position to refuse when Bob Linn asked me a bit later to join the newly formed Technical Committee for New Standards; again, end of retirement. Two years of this, with monthly cross-country travel and high-speed assaults on formidable technical and political problems, was all I could take. I retired from the committee early in March 1994. So I was back in retirement when Rich Shavelson asked me to schedule this talk. I couldn't have been readier for a valedictory. A week later, news stories broke out condemning the leadership of the California Learning Assessment System (CLAS) for alleged technical shortcomings. I was asked to chair a small committee to put matters in perspective—that is, to review the methods of sampling and scoring tests and producing school and district scores used in 1993 and those planned for 1994. I didn't say no, as I had taken some responsibility for the