Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Len Swanson: Pearson Visiting Scholar

Dr. Len Swanson from ETS was the most recent keynote speaker during the Pearson Visiting Scholars program in Iowa City. Dr. Swanson talked about Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT) and the history of how we got to where we are. Dr. Swanson was a particularly good choice for this presentation as he has worked in CAT since its inception and was "on the floor" when most of the ground work was laid for what we take for granted today. Pearson was very lucky to have Dr. Swanson’s expertise, which he also shared with students and faculty from the University of Iowa.
Len pointed out that the desire to tailor testing toward individuals was really enabled by the proliferation of IRT methodology, as well as the continued improvements in technology. Early research was provided by think tanks like ETS with funding coming from the Office of Naval Research.

Len provided the following timeline as a backbone to anchor CAT development to:

1980-1984: Computerized college placement tests
1987-1988: Computerized mastery testing (NCARB)
1990-1993: Praxis exam operational
1990-1993: Graduate Records Exam (GRE) CAT Version
1993-1994: NCLEX (Nurses' Certification and Licensing Exam) CAT Operational.
1994-2008: Statewide CATs implemented both district and state level
When asked about the challenges encountered on the road to operational CAT exams, Dr. Swanson responded that quality item pools, infrastructure, and exam security were the big issues of the day. Funny, isn’t it? Almost fifty years later the same issues are still roadblocks to fully realizing the potential of both computer-based, as well as computer adaptive testing.