Assessment is a valuable complement to instruction. It tells us who has learned and who hasn’t so educators can determine what’s most likely to help a student grow and succeed in the future.

With nearly half a century invested in psychometric research—the study of educational and psychological measurement—I think it’s important to look back at the development of modern assessments to see what trends are likely to shape and improve assessment and instruction in the future.

A brief history of adaptive testing

I happened to attend the University of Minnesota at a fortuitous time for an aspiring psychometrician. My graduate school mentor, David Weiss, was a counseling psychologist. Counselors rely heavily on psychological tests, which led Weiss to become an expert in test theory and practice, and to found the Psychometric Methods graduate degree program at the university. It was 1971, and Dr. Weiss was exploring the use of computers to administer aptitude tests and vocational interests.

Student assessment trends: A brief history and a bright future

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As I joined the graduate program, Weiss was in final negotiations with the Office of Naval Research on a contract to research computerized adaptive testing (CAT), which was more of a concept than a reality at the time. I was lucky enough to be invited to join the team. I believe he chose me because I had independently conceived of what is now called adaptive testing—not realizing people had already begun researching and even practicing it—in my graduate school application.

About the Author:

James McBride, Ph.D., is vice president and chief psychometrician at Renaissance. He has been instrumental in the practical application of item response theory and has conducted test development and personnel research for a variety of organizations. He has led the development of several breakthrough CAT tests, including the first commercial applications of the technology. He is co-editor of a leading book on the development of CAT and has authored numerous journal articles, professional papers, book chapters, and technical reports. He can be reached via email at

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