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A Brief History of Attempts to Monitor Testing

George Madaus
National Board on Educational Testing and Public Policy
Carolyn A. and Peter S. Lynch School of Education
Boston College

Volume 2, Number 2— February 2001

The idea of establishing standards for psychological testing or somehow monitoring the use of tests has a long history. As far back as 1895, the American Psychological Association (APA) appointed a committee to investigate the feasibility of standardizing mental and physical tests. During the 1900s, some psychologists prescribed specific standards for tests —for example, in 1924 Truman Kelley wrote that a test needed a reliability of 0.94 to be useful in evaluating individual accomplishment.(note 1) But organized efforts to standardize tests bore little fruit until mid-century.

Since then, such standards have proliferated. Notable among them is a series jointly sponsored by the APA, the American Educational Research Association (AERA), and the National Council on Measurements in Education (NCME). This series began in 1954 when the APA produced Technical Recommendations for Psychological Tests and Diagnostic Techniques.(note 2) The AERA and the National Council on Measurements Used in Education (the forerunner of NCME) collaborated to produce the 1955 Technical Recommendations for Achievement Tests.(note 3) In 1966, and again in 1974 and 1985, the APA, AERA, and NCME issued revised versions of the technical recommendations called the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (the Standards).(note 4) In 1992 these three organizations began another revision of the Standards and a new version was released in 1999.(note 5)

We will not trace the evolution of these professional standards and ethical codes here. Instead, we focus on efforts to organize a means of monitoring testing. We describe proposals to that end in chronological order, from the first proposal for independent monitoring of tests in the 1920s, to similar proposals in the 1990s.

The proposals described include:

• Giles Ruch's proposal for a consumers' research bureau on tests;

• Oscar K. Buros' reviews of tests and efforts to establish a more active test monitoring agency;

• The APA's call for a Bureau of Test Standards and a Seal of Approval;

• The Project on the Classification of Exceptional Children's recommendation for a National Bureau of Standards for Psychological Tests and Testing; and

• The efforts of various organizations to establish standards for test development and use (e.g., the AERA, APA, and NCME Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing and the APA Guidelines for Computer-based Tests and Interpretations).

Ruch Proposal for Consumers' Research Bureau on Tests

As far as we know, the first call for an independent monitoring agency for testing came in 1925, from Giles M. Ruch. Ruch, a well-known author of numerous standardized tests, was concerned by the lack of information that test publishers provided and argued that "the test buyer is surely entitled to the same protection as the buyer of food products, namely, the true ingredients printed on the outside of each package."(note 6) Eight years later, Ruch had seen little improvement in the situation and proposed an external agency to evaluate tests:

There is urgent need for a fact-finding organization which will undertake impartial, experimental, and statistical evaluations of tests – validity, reliability, legitimate uses, accuracy of norms, and the like. This might lead to the listing of satisfactory tests in the various subject matter divisions in much the same way that Consumers' Research, Inc. is attempting to furnish reliable information to the average buyer.(note 7)

Ruch's efforts to initiate such an organization were without success.

Buros' Reviews of Tests

The second, and much more successful, effort to monitor testing was begun by Oscar K. Buros in the 1930s. For over forty years, until his death in 1978, Buros directed the Buros Institute of Mental Measurements and through it a crusade to improve the quality of tests and their use. His wife, Luella, who assisted him, was instrumental in having the institute relocated to the University of Nebraska, where its work continues via publication of the Mental Measurements Yearbook (MMY)(note 8) and Tests in Print (TIP)(note 9) series.

Buros is known as the pre-eminent bibliographer of tests, and the publications he initiated have become the standard reference sources on tests.(note 10) Initially, however, he sought more active monitoring of testing. In the 1930s Buros echoed Ruch's call for a monitoring agency. He believed that neither commercial test publishers nor non-profit organizations such as the Cooperative Test Service and the sponsors of state testing programs could be unbiased critics of their own tests. He reported that he tried without success to start a test consumers' research organization.

Buros then initiated the test review project that led to the MMY. When the first yearbook was published by Rutgers University in 1938, Buros still hoped for an external test monitoring agency. Clarence Partch, Dean of the School of Education, noted in his foreword that the School of Education hoped to establish a Test Users' Research Institute to evaluate tests and testing programs and serve as a clearinghouse for information on testing. This never came to pass.

The Buros Institute's work came to comprise the MMY and TIP series, and a series of monographs on tests in particular subject areas. The Institute also now maintains an on-line database with monthly updates of the publications. Its goal is to help test users by influencing test authors and publishers to produce better tests and to provide better information with them. This goal has remained essentially unchanged since 1938:

Test authors and publishers will be impelled to construct fewer and better tests and to furnish a great deal more information concerning the construction, validation, use, and limitations of their tests. . . Test users will be aided in setting up evaluation programs that will recognize the limitations and dangers associated with testing — and the lack of testing — as well as the possibilities.(note 11)

To that end, the Institute provides a list of available tests, information about them, critical reviews by independent persons from psychology, testing and measurement, and related fields, and bibliographies. The centerpiece of the Institute's work is the MMY series, of which the thirteenth and most recent yearbook was published in 1998. Each yearbook supplements the previous editions; it does not repeat information for tests previously reviewed that were not substantially revised in the interim. The TIP series is more bibliographical; each volume supersedes the previous one and lists all tests available for use with English-speaking subjects. The series also provides a master index to the Yearbooks. The most recent volume was published in 1999.

The monographs series reprints information from the MMYs and TIPs for particular types of tests. It has covered, for example, reading tests, personality tests, intelligence tests, social studies tests, and science tests.

The Buros Institute's work has been extremely successful in several respects. Its mere longevity is evidence of success; for most of its sixty-year history, it has supported itself by the sale of its publications. These are comprehensive and have a well-deserved reputation for objectivity based on the integrity of the editors and the independence of the reviewers.

The Institute's success story is tempered, however, by its failures and limitations. Its success at supporting itself was due to its nearly complete failure to find outside funding. Buros had some initial support, but this dried up early. By 1972, eight of the Institute's ten publications to that point had been published by the Gryphon Press, which consisted of Buros and his wife. Since Buros's death and the relocation of the Institute to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the publishing effort is apparently on a sounder basis, since the series is now distributed by the University of Nebraska Press.

Buros himself considered his life's work less than a complete success. In addition to the bibliographical and review functions of the Institute, Buros had pursued five objectives of a "crusading nature:"

• to impel test authors and publishers to publish better tests and to provide detailed information on test validity and limitations;

• to make test users aware of the value and limitations of standardized tests;

• to stimulate reviewers to think through more carefully their own beliefs and values relevant to testing;

• to suggest to test users better methods of appraising tests in light of their needs; and

• to urge suspicion of all tests unaccompanied by detailed data on their construction, validity, uses, and limitations.(note 12)

Buros called the results of these endeavors modest. He found that test publishers continued to market tests that failed to meet the standards of MMY and journal reviewers, and that at least half of them should never have been published. Exaggerated, false, or unsubstantiated claims were the rule. While test users were becoming somewhat more discriminating, a test — no matter how poor — that was nicely packaged and promised to do all sorts of things no test can do still found many gullible buyers.

Failures aside, the Institute's work also has two major short-comings. First, the critical reviews that are the core of the effort are produced by many people whose views on test quality inevitably vary. The editors of the eleventh MMY point out that readers should critically evaluate reviewers' comments on the tests since, while the reviewers are outstanding professionals in their fields, their reviews inevitably reflect their personal learning histories.

Second, the Buros publications have focused largely on tests and not on testing. They deal with the quality of the tests produced; but the effects of tests cannot be divorced from the effects of testing. Indeed, some of the most serious problems of testing clearly have arisen not from shortcomings of the tests themselves, but rather from misuse of technically adequate products.

Two Calls for a Bureau of Test Standards

There have been at least two other calls for a "bureau of test standards." The first came more than forty years ago from a committee of the APA. The APA is well known today for its part in creating the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing. Less well known is that when it formed its original Committee on Test Standards in 1950, it also considered establishing a Bureau of Test Standards and a Seal of Approval. The Committee would have enforced its standards through the Bureau and by granting the Seal of Approval. The Committee was in fact established (and is now known as the APA Committee on Psychological Tests and Assessments, or CPTA), but the proposal for a Bureau and Seal apparently went nowhere. The records of the APA note simply that "the Council voted to take no action on these two recommendations, in view of the complicated problems they present."(note 13)

A quarter-century later a national commission recommended a similar body, but this time as a federal agency. Under the auspices of what was then the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, the Project on the Classification of Exceptional Children was charged with examining the classifying and labeling of children who were handicapped, disadvantaged, or delinquent. The project report allowed that well-designed standardized tests could have value when used appropriately by skilled persons, but found that tests were too often of poor quality and misused, and that the "admirable efforts" of professional organizations and reputable test publishers did not "prevent widespread abuse."(note 14) The report stated:

Because psychological tests. . . saturate our society and because their use can result in the irreversible deprivation of opportunity to many children, especially those already burdened by poverty and prejudice, we recommend that there be established a National Bureau of Standards for Psychological Tests and Testing.(note 15)

It further suggested that poor tests or testing could be as injurious to opportunity as impure food or drugs are injurious to health. The proposed Bureau would have set standards for tests, tests uses, and test users, acted on complaints, operated a research program, and disseminated its findings.

What happened to the recommendation of this report? Apparently nothing. Edward Zigler, then Director of the Office of Child Development, who proposed the project, recalls only that "the recommendation. . . was never followed up."(note 16)

Joint Standards for Educational and Psychological Tests

In comparing the evolution of the APA ethical standards and the joint AERA-APA-NCME test standards (i.e., the Standards) from the 1950s through the mid-1980s, it is evident that while ethical standards directly relevant to testing have diminished in number, technical standards have multiplied. Some test publishers clearly have been paying heed to the joint test standards. For example, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) Standards for Quality and Fairness,(note 17) adopted by the ETS Trustees in the mid-1980s, reflect and adopt the Standards. Adherence to the Standards for Quality and Fairness is assessed through audit and subsequent management review and monitored by a Visiting Committee of persons outside ETS that includes educational leaders, testing experts, and representatives of organizations that have been critical of ETS.

But numerous small publishers violate the Standards (e.g., with regard to documenting validity and distributing test materials). Moreover, the connection between the Standards and test use is quite weak:

There is much evidence that the test standards [i.e., the Standards] have limited direct impact on test developers' and publishers' practices and even less on test use. . . [Yet]. . .there seems to be little professional enthusiasm for concrete proposals to enforce standards. . . Professionals seem reluctant to set up regular. . .mechanisms for the enforcement of their standards in part because the notion of self-governance and professional judgment is part of [their] self-image. . . As Arlene Kaplan Daniels has observed, professional "codes. . .are part of the ideology, designed for public relations and justification for the status and prestige which professions assume. . ."(note 18)

These conclusions seem to us still relevant to efforts since the mid-1980s to develop standards for testing. To illustrate this point, we cite two examples relating to "standards" promulgated for computerized testing, and for honesty or integrity testing. Before describing these two cases, we note that since the mid-1980s there have been several other initiatives to set standards for testing:

• In 1987 the Society for Organizational and Industrial Psychology developed the Principles for Validation and Use of Personnel Selection Procedures.(note 19)

• In 1988 the Code of Fair Testing Practices was completed.(note 20) It was developed by the Joint Committee on Testing Practices, initiated by AERA, APA, and NCME, but with members from other professional organizations. The Code was intended to be consistent with the 1985 Standards; it is limited to educational tests and was to be understandable by the general public.(note 21) It has been endorsed by numerous test publishers.

• In 1990 the American Federation of Teachers issued its Standards for Teacher Competence in Educational Assessment of Students.(note 22)

• In 1991 a National Forum on Assessment developed Criteria for Evaluating Student Assessment Systems, which was endorsed by more than five dozen national and regional education and civil-rights organizations. Subse-quently, FairTest, one of the members of the National Forum, proposed requiring an Educational Impact Statement (similar to Environmental Impact Statements) before adoption of any new national testing system.(note 23)

Guidelines for Computer-based Tests and Interpretations

Because computerized tests and test interpretation were increasing rapidly in the 1980s, the APA decided to develop the 1986 APA Guidelines for Computer-based Tests and Interpretations (the Guidelines).(note 24) The Guidelines aimed to interpret the 1985 Standards as they relate to computer-based testing and interpretation, and to outline professional responsibilities in this field. They clearly specify that like paper-and-pencil tests, computer-based testing should undergo scholarly peer review. Guideline 31 states:

Adequate information about the [computer] system and reasonable access to the system for evaluating responses should be provided to qualified professionals engaged in a scholarly review of the interpretive service. When it is deemed necessary to provide trade secrets, a written agreement of nondisclosure should be made.

However, this guideline has had little effect on computerized testing, as noted in the introduction to the eleventh MMY:

There has been a dramatic increase in the number and type of computer-based-test-interpretative systems (CBTI). We had considered publishing a separate volume to track the quality of such systems [but]. . .were frustrated. . .by the difficulty we encountered in accessing from the publishers the test programs and more importantly the algorithms in use by the computer-based systems.(note 25)

If even the Buros Institute, the pre-eminent agency for scholarly review of tests, has no access to computerized testing systems for review purposes, clearly the producers of these systems are not following the Guidelines.

Model Guidelines for Pre-employment Integrity Testing Programs

Another set of testing standards issued since the 1985 Standards is the Model Guidelines for Pre-employment Integrity Testing Programs (the Model Guidelines), developed by the Association of Personnel Test Publishers (APTP).(note 26) This association is a group of trade organizations that publish personnel tests. Most of the task force that developed the Model Guidelines is affiliated with personnel testing companies.

Two things are striking about these guidelines. First, while they refer to more widely recognized standards for testing (such as the 1985 Standards), they clearly have a promotional aura about them. For example, an introductory table, listing the "convenience issues," "main problems," and "main advantages" of various screening methods available to business and industry, clearly indicates that integrity tests are the best.

Second, these guidelines were developed on the heels of a marked increase in the sales of so-called honesty or integrity tests. In 1988 the U.S. Congress barred the use of polygraph tests to screen applicants for most jobs. Immediately thereafter, there was a flurry of advertising for paper-and-pencil honesty tests, which came to be quite widely used in some businesses. A 1990 survey showed, for example, that 30 percent of wholesale and retail trade businesses used such tests.(note 27)

At the same time, there was widespread concern about the validity and use of these tests. As a result, two investigations were launched in the late 1980s, one by the APA and one by the Office of Technology Assessment. Both turned out to be fairly critical of honesty testing (the OTA 1990 report more so than the APA Task Force 1991 study);(note 28) but oddly, the Model Guidelines make no reference whatsoever to either investigation. This omission can hardly be attributed to ignorance since many of the companies with which APA Task Force members are affiliated were surveyed in both studies.

Thus, although the Model Guidelines do contain some useful advice for potential developers and users of honesty or integrity tests, they are not an independent or scholarly effort. Indeed, one observer has suggested that the APTA Model Guidelines might be viewed as an attempt by a trade organization not just to improve the practices of personnel test publishers, but also to help fend off more active and independent monitoring of this segment of the testing marketplace.


The concept of monitoring tests and the impact of testing programs on individuals and institutions has a long history. Its merit is commonly acknowledged. Nevertheless, it was not translated into practice until the formation in 1998 of the National Board on Educational Testing and Public Policy. The National Board, funded by a startup grant from the Ford Foundation, has finally begun the process of independently monitoring tests and testing programs that has been called for since the 1920s.


1 Kelley, T. L. (1924). Statistical method. New York: MacMillan.

2 American Psychological Association. (1954). Technical recommendations for psychological tests and diagnostic techniques. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

3 American Educational Research Association, Committee on Test Standards, and National Council on Measurements Used in Education. (1955). Technical recommendations for achievement tests. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.

4 American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, and the National Council on Measurement in Education. (1985). Standards for educational and psychological testing. Washington, DC, American Psychological Association.

5 See: American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, and the National Council on Measurement in Education, (1999), Standards for educational and psychological testing, Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. The three organizations that have sponsored the standards also have developed their own ethical codes. For example, the APA issued ethical standards or principles (and most recently a code of conduct) in 1953, 1958, 1963, 1968, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1990, and 1992. Also, the AERA issued its first set of ethical standards in 1992, and the NCME developed The Code of Professional Responsibility in Educational Measurement in 1995 (see Schmeiser, C. B. (1992). Ethical codes in the professions. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 11(3), 5-11).

6 Ruch, G. M. (1925). Minimum essentials in reporting data on standard tests. Journal of Educational Research, 12, 349-358.

7 Ibid.

8 See: Buros, O. K. (Ed.), (1938, 1940, 1949, 1953, 1959, 1965, 1974, 1978); Mitchell, J. V. (Ed.), (1985); Conoley, J. C., and Kramer, J. L. (Eds.), (1989, 1992); Conoley, J.C., and Impara, J.C., (Eds.), (1995); Impara, J.C., and Plake, B.S. (Eds.), (1998), Mental measurement yearbook, Highland Park, NJ, Gryphon Press.

9 See: Buros, O.K. (Ed.), (1961, 1974); Mitchell, J. (Ed.), (1983); Murphy, L., Close Conoley, J., and Impara, J. (Eds.), (1994); Murphy, L., Impara, J., and Plake, B. (Eds.), (1999), Tests in print, 1-5, Highland Park, NJ, Gryphon Press.

10 In the 1980s an alternative compendium of reviews of tests, called Test Critiques, was begun by the Test Corporation of America, a subsidiary of Westport Publishers of Kansas City, MO. This series has not attained nearly the stature of the Buros series for at least four reasons. First, it is of much more recent vintage. Second, it provides reviews of only better known and widely used tests. Third, it contains only reviews and not the extensive bibliography of the Buros series. Fourth, as the product of a commercial publishing house, it seems unlikely to attain a reputation like that of the Buros series for independent scholarship. This title currently consists of Volumes I-X ( See: Keyser, D. J., and Sweetland, R. C. (Eds.), (1984-current ), Test critiques, Kansas City, MO, Test Corporation of America.

11 P. XI. Buros, O. K., Ed. (1972). The seventh mental measurements yearbook. Highland Park, NJ: Gryphon Press.

12 Ibid, p. XXVII.

13 P. 546, emphasis added. Adkins, D. C. (1950). Proceedings of the Fifty-eighth Annual Business Meeting of the American Psychological Association, Inc., State College, Pennsylvania. The American Psychologist, 5, 544-575.

14 P. 237. Hobbs, N. (1975). The futures of children. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

15 Ibid.

16 Zigler, E. (1991). Letter to Kenneth B. Newton.

17 Educational Testing Service. (1987). ETS standards for quality and fairness. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.

18 P. 49. Daniels, A. K. (1973). How free should professionals be? The professions and their prospects (pp.39-57). Beverly Hills, CA, Sage.

19 Society for Organizational and Industrial Psychology, Inc. (1987). Principles for the validation and use of personnel selection procedures. College Park, MD: Society for Organizational and Industrial Psychology, Inc.

20 American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, and the National Council on Measurement in Education Joint Committee on Testing Practices. (1988). Code of fair testing practices. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

21 Fremer, J. E., Diamond, E., and Camara, W. (1989). Developing a code of fair testing practices in education. American Psychologist, 44(7), 1062-1067.

22 American Federation of Teachers, National Council on Measurement in Education, and National Education Association. (1990). Standards for teacher competence in educational assessment of students. Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers.

23 Neill, M. (September 23, 1992). Assessment and the educational impact statement. Education Week, 12(3).

24 American Psychological Association. (1986). Guidelines for computer-based tests and interpretations. Washington, DC: The American Psychological Association.

25 P. XI. Conoley, J. C., and Kramer, J. J. (Eds.) (1992). The eleventh mental measurements yearbook. Lincoln, NE: Buros Institute of Mental Measurements (distributed by the University of Nebraska Press).

26 Association of Personnel Test Publishers. (1990). Model guidelines for preemployment integrity testing programs. Washington, DC: Association of Personnel Test Publishers.

27 American Management Association. (1990). The AMA 1990 survey on workplace testing. New York: American Management Association.

28 Office of Technology Assessment. (1990). The use of integrity tests for pre-employment screening. Washington, DC: Office of Technology Assessment.

American Psychological Task Force on the Prediction of Dishonesty and Theft in Employment Settings. (1991). Questionnaires used in the prediction of trustworthiness in pre-employment selection decisions: An A.P.A. task force report. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.


About the Author

George Madaus is a Senior Fellow with the National Board on Educational Testing and Public Policy and the Boisi Professor of Education and Public Policy in the Lynch School of Education at Boston College.


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