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Contemporary validity theory and the assessment context in England

By Neil Stringer


The concept of validity developed considerably during the last half of the twentieth century, from essentially meaning that 'a test measures what it says it measures', through multiple types of validity - content, criterion, and construct - to a multifaceted but essentially unitary concept of construct validity.

The publishers of high stakes tests in the United States have, for the most part, embraced the modern concept of validity, whilst those responsible for general qualifications in England, such as the GCSE and GCE, appear not to have ventured far beyond evaluating content validity and reliability in ensuring the quality of these tests.

These differences may be attributable to differences between the two cultures in the forms of tests and the personnel traditionally responsible for their construction. Nonetheless, the unitary concept of validity demands forms of evidence to counter threats to validity that content validity and reliability do not and, as such, the quality of English general qualifications could benefit from explicit evaluation of validity, especially during specification (syllabus) development.

The validity literature contains examples of the types of evidence required to satisfy validity concerns and guidance on how to gather it, on which awarding bodies may draw. The involvement of the regulatory authorities in specification development means, however, that responsibility for validity cannot lie exclusively with the awarding bodies, and a coordinated approach to validation would be required.

How to cite

Stringer, N. (2008). Contemporary validity theory and the assessment context in England. Manchester: AQA Centre for Education Research and Policy.


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