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The Measurement of Student Ability in Modern Assessment Systems

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  • Brian Jacob
  • Jesse Rothstein

Abstract

Economists often use test scores to measure a student’s performance or an adult’s human capital. These scores reflect nontrivial decisions about how to measure and scale student achievement, with important implications for secondary analyses. For example, the scores computed in several major testing regimes, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), depend not only on the examinees’ responses to test items, but also on their background characteristics, including race and gender. As a consequence, if a black and white student respond identically to questions on the NAEP assessment, the reported ability for the black student will be lower than for the white student—reflecting the lower average performance of black students. This can bias many secondary analyses. Other assessments use different measurement models. This paper aims to familiarize applied economists with the construction and properties of common cognitive score measures and the implications for research using these measures.

Suggested Citation

  • Brian Jacob & Jesse Rothstein, 2016. "The Measurement of Student Ability in Modern Assessment Systems," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 30(3), pages 85-108, Summer.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:30:y:2016:i:3:p:85-108
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.30.3.85
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. James Heckman & Seong Hyeok Moon & Rodrigo Pinto & Peter Savelyev & Adam Yavitz, 2010. "Analyzing social experiments as implemented: A reexamination of the evidence from the HighScope Perry Preschool Program," Quantitative Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 1(1), pages 1-46, July.
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    3. Andrew Dean Ho, 2009. "A Nonparametric Framework for Comparing Trends and Gaps Across Tests," Journal of Educational and Behavioral Statistics, , vol. 34(2), pages 201-228, June.
    4. Jesse Rothstein, 2010. "Teacher Quality in Educational Production: Tracking, Decay, and Student Achievement," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 125(1), pages 175-214.
    5. James Heckman & Seong Hyeok Moon & Rodrigo Pinto & Peter Savelyev & Adam Yavitz, 2010. "Analyzing social experiments as implemented: evidence from the HighScope Perry Preschool Program," CeMMAP working papers CWP22/10, Centre for Microdata Methods and Practice, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
    6. Lynne Schofield & Brian Junker & Lowell Taylor & Dan Black, 2015. "Predictive Inference Using Latent Variables with Covariates," Psychometrika, Springer;The Psychometric Society, vol. 80(3), pages 727-747, September.
    7. Roland G. Fryer & Steven D. Levitt, 2004. "Understanding the Black-White Test Score Gap in the First Two Years of School," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 86(2), pages 447-464, May.
    8. Roland G. Fryer & Steven D. Levitt, 2013. "Testing for Racial Differences in the Mental Ability of Young Children," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(2), pages 981-1005, April.
    9. Robert Mislevy, 1991. "Randomization-based inference about latent variables from complex samples," Psychometrika, Springer;The Psychometric Society, vol. 56(2), pages 177-196, June.
    10. Julien Lafortune & Jesse Rothstein & Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, 2016. "School Finance Reform and the Distribution of Student Achievement," NBER Working Papers 22011, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Elizabeth U. Cascio & Ethan G. Lewis, 2006. "Schooling and the Armed Forces Qualifying Test: Evidence from School-Entry Laws," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 41(2).
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    16. Brian Junker & Lynne Schofield & Lowell Taylor, 2012. "The use of cognitive ability measures as explanatory variables in regression analysis," IZA Journal of Labor Economics, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 1(1), pages 1-19, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:eee:ecoedu:v:58:y:2017:i:c:p:32-42 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Matthew Davis & Fernando V. Ferreira, 2017. "Housing Disease and Public School Finances," NBER Working Papers 24140, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Michele Pellizzari & Anne Fichen, 2017. "A new measure of skill mismatch: theory and evidence from PIAAC," IZA Journal of Labor Economics, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 6(1), pages 1-30, December.
    4. Jesse Rothstein, 2018. "Inequality of Educational Opportunity? Schools as Mediators of the Intergenerational Transmission of Income," NBER Working Papers 24537, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H75 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Government: Health, Education, and Welfare
    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education
    • I28 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Government Policy

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