Co-editors Jessica L. Jonson and Kurt F. Geisinger Discuss the New AERA Book Fairness in Educational and Psychological Testing
Co-editors Jessica L. Jonson and Kurt F. Geisinger Discuss the New AERA Book Fairness in Educational and Psychological Testing

June 2022

AERA recently published Fairness in Educational and Psychological Testing: Examining Theoretical Research, Practice, and Policy Implications of the 2014 Standards, edited by Jessica L. Jonson and Kurt F. Geisinger. The book examines scholarship, best practice methodologies, and examples of policy and practice from various professional fields in education and psychology to illuminate the elevated emphasis on test fairness in the 2014 Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing.

Jonson is a research associate professor in the Buros Center for Testing at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Geisinger is director of the Buros Center for Testing and Meierhenry Distinguished University Professor at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Jonson and Geisinger discuss important takeaways from the book in the following Q&A.

Jessica L. Jonson Kurt F. Geisinger

Q. What led you to undertake this book?

A. When we initially undertook this book, fairness had been elevated in the 2014 Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing [AERA, APA, & NCME, 2014; hereinafter Standards] as a foundational element of professional testing and assessment practice, along with reliability and validity.   This notable change represents the profession’s growing concern and commitment to the importance of fair score interpretation and use for all test takers. However, fairness in testing as a concept and practice is still in its infancy when compared to the long history of evolving conceptions of validity that have occurred since the very first edition of the Standards in 1954. Given the relative newness of the concept, the profession still has much to do in terms of researching, practicing, and communicating to test users the fairness issues for different tests, different populations, and different contexts. 

Therefore, the purpose of the book was to gather scholar-practitioners from different professional fields in education and psychology with multiple points of view to prompt an examination of the extent to which 2014 Standards appropriately address fairness issues in different testing contexts; limitations of the guidelines; and future implications for research, practice, and policy. However, in the process of drafting the book, an increase in societal concerns about fairness generally has arisen and prompted increased public (and professional) scrutiny of testing and fairness. We, therefore, attempted to incorporate those specific concerns into the book, as well as make recommendations about how future editions of the Standards, and researchers and practitioners, can make more progress in moving from intent to action.

Q. Why is this book important to the education and education research fields?

A. The book was written to provide a survey of fairness considerations for a wide variety of audiences in education and psychology. The chapters are written to be accessible to individuals with various levels of expertise in testing and assessment and to address issues of interest to test developers, researchers, and test users. In addition, we included perspectives not only from experts in large-scale standardized testing but also from academics in school psychology, counseling psychology, and industrial/organizational psychology, where testing also plays a central role in professional practice. 

This diversity of perspectives has provided greater insight into fairness issues that may not be recognized, as a result of circumstances such as the use of technology and accommodations, and the racial, cultural, and linguistic diversity of test takers. Much work needs to be done to better define the concept of fairness in testing and its underlying assumptions, to provide more empirically based guidelines for test developers, to educate users and the public, and to demonstrate a commitment to fairness as a profession. Such a multifaceted goal is worthwhile, particularly given the current public tensions about testing.

Q. What are the key topics covered in the book?

A. To accomplish the previously stated purposes, the book includes 16 chapters in three sections. The first section, “Conceptualizing Fairness in Testing and Assessment,” has five chapters that focus on past, present, and potential future influences on how fairness in testing and assessment is conceptualized in connection with testing, as well as taking into account different societal definitions of fairness. The second section, “Encountering Fairness in Different Fields and Contexts,” consists of six chapters that discuss accessibility policies in education; the use of technology-enabled and technology-enhanced assessments, items, and scoring processes in education and employment; development and production of large-scale achievement tests; and the interpretation of scores from psychoeducational tests. The third and final section of the book, “Understanding Specific Subgroups When Considering Fairness,” contains five chapters that address fairness issues related to specific subgroups such as English learners, diverse ethnic and cultural groups, and individuals with disabilities when using both educational and psychological tests. We concluded the book by identifying cross-cutting themes for moving forward that arose out of the variety and diversity of perspectives shared in the preceding chapters. 

Q. What is the value of the book to researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and the public, and how can they utilize it?

A. The chapter authors were committed to discussing fairness issues in a way that was thoughtful and engaging for measurement professionals and accessible and informative for individuals who were not measurement experts, by defining terms that may be unfamiliar to a broad set of readers. To provide a common structure throughout the book, the authors for each chapter were asked to attend to the following five questions:

  • What key statements or standards in the 2014 Standards fairness chapter do you address?
  • How do the issues raised in your chapter attend to fairness considerations for diverse groups (e.g., race and ethnicity, gender, and disability)?
  • What theoretical and empirical research from your professional area of expertise can help readers better understand the intent of the fairness standards?
  • Which policies and practices elucidate the intent of the fairness standards and the importance of fairness considerations in testing?
  • What future scholarship would assist in furthering how the field thinks about and practices fairness?

The intent of these framing questions for each chapter was to meet the needs and address the interests of different audiences. In this book we believe researchers will encounter new evidence about fairness and ideas for the collection of future evidence. Practitioners will better understand how fairness in testing comes into play in all steps of the testing process: design, development, administration, scoring, validation, and use. Policymakers can enhance their understanding and awareness of fairness in testing by reading the conceptual and applied discussions. The broader public can gain a sense of the commitment of professionals in the testing field to fairness in their work, and a sense of how fairness in testing intersects with more general societal definitions of fairness.

Q. How does this book complement the Standards volume?

A. Although the Standards provide general guidelines for testing practice, they do not cite scholarship, best practices methodologies, or examples of practice. Therefore, it is possible for the guidelines in the Standards to be further clarified and contextualized through the identification and examination of how they are applied in research and practice. This is important not only for educational testing but also for psychological and employment testing. Multiple chapters in the Standards acknowledge that, to realize our goals for fairness, we need to communicate them more broadly. The chapters in our book do that by providing specific, applied, conceptual, and contextualized discussions of fairness issues that are wide ranging. This kind of broad treatment is valuable for understanding what fairness in testing is and why it is important. The Standards cannot be expected to be solely responsible for addressing these issues, but they can serve as a guiding light for professionals in the field and for test users. That guidance in the Standards can make a difference in how well tests serve the needs of all test takers, provide all test users with credible information for decision making, and serve the public good. 

Q. What further research on fairness in testing needs to be done, and how does the book provide a starting point for it?

A. The insightful perspectives shared across the chapters of this book resulted in nine themes that delineate critical facets of fairness in testing and how it is applied and practiced, which deserve more attention from researchers and practitioners. We discuss each of these themes in the concluding chapter of the book to offer suggestions for moving fairness in testing forward into the future. This is not a comprehensive survey; rather, the issues raised congregate around several shared themes for advancing research, practices, and future professional guidelines for fairness in testing. Our articulation of these themes illustrates how ideas about fairness and the practice of fairness in testing need to evolve to move from intent to action to meet the imperative goal of providing all test takers with equivalent opportunities to be validly and fairly assessed.  Although we had ourselves and our testing and measurement colleagues in mind when writing this final chapter, the nine themes should be helpful to test users, professionals in fields where measurement plays a central role, and graduate students with an interest in fair testing and assessment.

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Print copies can be purchased here, and eBooks can be purchased here.

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