EXPLORING RELIABILITY IN ACADEMIC ASSESSMENT
Written by Colin Phelan and Julie Wren, Graduate Assistants, UNI Office of Academic Assessment (2005-06)
Reliability is the degree to which an assessment tool produces stable and consistent results.
Types of Reliability
Example: A test designed to assess student learning in psychology could be given to a group of students twice, with the second administration perhaps coming a week after the first. The obtained correlation coefficient would indicate the stability of the scores.
Example: If you wanted to evaluate the reliability of a critical thinking assessment, you might create a large set of items that all pertain to critical thinking and then randomly split the questions up into two sets, which would represent the parallel forms.
Example: Inter-rater reliability might be employed when different judges are evaluating the degree to which art portfolios meet certain standards. Inter-rater reliability is especially useful when judgments can be considered relatively subjective. Thus, the use of this type of reliability would probably be more likely when evaluating artwork as opposed to math problems.
Validity refers to how well a test measures what it is purported to measure.
Why is it necessary?
While reliability is necessary, it alone is not sufficient. For a test to be reliable, it also needs to be valid. For example, if your scale is off by 5 lbs, it reads your weight every day with an excess of 5lbs. The scale is reliable because it consistently reports the same weight every day, but it is not valid because it adds 5lbs to your true weight. It is not a valid measure of your weight.
Types of Validity
Example: If a measure of art appreciation is created all of the items should be related to the different components and types of art. If the questions are regarding historical time periods, with no reference to any artistic movement, stakeholders may not be motivated to give their best effort or invest in this measure because they do not believe it is a true assessment of art appreciation.
2. Construct Validity is used to ensure that the measure is actually measure what it is intended to measure (i.e. the construct), and not other variables. Using a panel of “experts” familiar with the construct is a way in which this type of validity can be assessed. The experts can examine the items and decide what that specific item is intended to measure. Students can be involved in this process to obtain their feedback.
Example: A women’s studies program may design a cumulative assessment of learning throughout the major. The questions are written with complicated wording and phrasing. This can cause the test inadvertently becoming a test of reading comprehension, rather than a test of women’s studies. It is important that the measure is actually assessing the intended construct, rather than an extraneous factor.
3. Criterion-Related Validity is used to predict future or current performance - it correlates test results with another criterion of interest.
Example: If a physics program designed a measure to assess cumulative student learning throughout the major. The new measure could be correlated with a standardized measure of ability in this discipline, such as an ETS field test or the GRE subject test. The higher the correlation between the established measure and new measure, the more faith stakeholders can have in the new assessment tool.
Example: When designing a rubric for history one could assess student’s knowledge across the discipline. If the measure can provide information that students are lacking knowledge in a certain area, for instance the Civil Rights Movement, then that assessment tool is providing meaningful information that can be used to improve the course or program requirements.
5. Sampling Validity (similar to content validity) ensures that the measure covers the broad range of areas within the concept under study. Not everything can be covered, so items need to be sampled from all of the domains. This may need to be completed using a panel of “experts” to ensure that the content area is adequately sampled. Additionally, a panel can help limit “expert” bias (i.e. a test reflecting what an individual personally feels are the most important or relevant areas).
Example: When designing an assessment of learning in the theatre department, it would not be sufficient to only cover issues related to acting. Other areas of theatre such as lighting, sound, functions of stage managers should all be included. The assessment should reflect the content area in its entirety.
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