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What is a Psychometrician?


Psychometricians design, administer and evaluate tests used in educational settings, employment, and certification or credentialing applications, psychological assessments for psychological and psychiatric conditions, and program assessment or evaluation; by doing so they allow for better understanding of pedagogical effectiveness, fairness in hiring practices, and greater refinement of treatment or action plan development.

The psychometrician is a role indispensable to the modern practice and study of psychology. It also has broad impacts on the general development of testing standards and assessment of performance in a variety of fields based on human factors. While the subfield of psychometry has significantly evolved, the needs for data, reliable standards of testing, and practical education have only increased. For those interested in pursuing an education in the discipline, this article describes the role in greater detail.

Observing and Evaluating

While psychometricians are trained in the parent discipline of psychology, their roles are far broader and center on education. In essence, when any standardized test is developed, a psychometrician is involved. They help to design assessments that measure human factors of those taking the tests and produce significant data. This means that such testing is a valid assessment of knowledge that is relevant across ethnicities and other social or economic boundaries. Such careful design is crucial in any multicultural environment and enhances the equity of standards.

Psychologists interested in pursuing this field are generally highly trained within a specific subfield of their discipline. The aspect of metrics in any credential indicates a focus on anthropological and psychological measures of meaning, fitness, and even personality. Many psychometricians work in contexts of either government entities or human resources, evaluating test takers. Others will pursue a career centered on designing the tests administered by universities, government bodies, and across the business world.

Slippery Figures

That might sound like an overly simplistic idea, but it’s one that has been nearly two centuries in the making. Modern psychometry has its early roots in the German psychophysics movement, which paralleled the more anthropological Victorian field propounded by those such as Darwin. In psychophysics, Herbart, Weber, and Fechner successively explored the relationship of the mind and physical stimuli with increasing accuracy.

While these pioneers did significant work, they were often hampered by the then-current cultural ideologies about mind and body. It was not until the arrival of Wilhelm Wundt that a purer science of psychology began to develop. During the 1930s, L.L. Thurstone founded the American Psychometric Society and, profoundly influenced by his German philosophical forebears, made significant strides in factor analysis.

By the mid 20th century, psychometrics was officially a program of study at many American universities. During this era, psychologists reassessed the reliance upon pure data, which was often gleaned from tests without regard to the questions themselves. They argued that psychological thinking had been supplanted by statistical thinking. In more recent decades, similar protests arose. What are these tests measuring? Is the data legitimately indicative? How does a blind reliance on biased testing data influence policy and social climate?

Today, psychometrics is most critically essential in the development, administration, and assessment of personality and educational testing. Standards for these areas were updated in 2014, and include the considerations of validity, fairness, weighting, and scoring of test responses, and the relevance of test questions to social and economic factors. These applications profoundly influence the structure and elaboration of Western society, and advances in the field improve equity and parity across many spheres of life.

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