The Measurement of Student Ability in Modern Assessment Systems

42 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2016 Last revised: 6 Aug 2016

See all articles by Brian A. Jacob

Brian A. Jacob

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

Jesse Rothstein

University of California, Berkeley, The Richard & Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy; University of California, Berkeley, College of Letters & Science, Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: July 2016

Abstract

Economists often use test scores to measure a student’s performance or an adult’s human capital. These scores reflect non-trivial 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

Jacob, Brian A. and Rothstein, Jesse, The Measurement of Student Ability in Modern Assessment Systems (July 2016). NBER Working Paper No. w22434. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2813882

Brian A. Jacob (Contact Author)

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Jesse Rothstein

University of California, Berkeley, The Richard & Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy ( email )

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University of California, Berkeley, College of Letters & Science, Department of Economics ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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