Qualities of a sound measurement

Sound measurement must meet the tests of validity, reliability and practicality. In fact, these are the three major considerations one should use in evaluating a measurement tool. ―Validity refers to the extent to which a test measures what we actually wish to measure. Reliability has to do with the accuracy and precision of a measurement procedure.

1. Test of Validity
Validity is the most critical criterion and indicates the degree to which an instrument measures what it is supposed to measure. Validity can also be thought of as utility. In other words, validity is the extent to which differences found with a measuring instrument reflect true differences among those being tested. But the question arises: how can one determine validity without direct confirming knowledge? The answer may be that we seek other relevant evidence that confirms the answers we have found with our measuring tool. What is relevant, evidence often depends upon the nature of the research problem and the judgment of the researcher. But one can certainly consider three types of validity in this connection: Content validity; Criterion related validity and  Construct validity.

Content validity is the extent to which a measuring instrument provides adequate coverage of the topic under study. If the instrument contains a representative sample of the universe, the content validity is good. Its determination is primarily judgmental and intuitive. It can also be determined by using a panel of persons who shall judge how well the measuring instrument meets the standards, but there is no numerical way to express it.

Criterion-related validity relates to our ability to predict some outcome or estimate the existence of some current condition. This form of validity reflects the success of measures used for some empirical estimating purpose. The concerned criterion must possess the following qualities:

Relevance: (A criterion is relevant if it is defined in terms we judge to be the proper measure.)

Freedom from bias: (Freedom from bias is attained when the criterion gives each subject an equal opportunity to score well.)

Reliability: (A reliable criterion is stable or reproducible.)

Availability: (The information specified by the criterion must be available.) In fact, a Criterion related validity is a broad term that actually refers to (a) Predictive validity and Concurrent validity. The former refers to the usefulness of a test in predicting some future performance whereas the latter refers to the usefulness of a test in closely relating to other measures of known validity. Criterion-related validity is expressed as the coefficient of correlation between test scores and some measure of future performance or between test scores and scores on another measure of known validity.

Construct validity is the most complex and abstract. A measure is said to possess construct validity to the degree that it confirms to predicted correlations with other theoretical propositions. Construct validity is the degree to which scores on a test can be accounted for by the explanatory constructs of a sound theory. For determining construct validity, we associate a set of other propositions with the results received from using our measurement instrument. If measurements on our devised scale correlate in a predicted way with these other propositions, we can conclude that there is some construct validity. If the above stated criteria and tests are met
with, we may state that our measuring instrument is valid and will result in correct measurement; otherwise we shall have to look for more information and/or resort to exercise of judgment.

2. Test of Reliability
The test of reliability is another important test of sound measurement. A measuring instrument is reliable if it provides consistent results. Reliable measuring instrument does contribute to validity, but a reliable instrument need not be a valid instrument. For instance, a scale that consistently overweighs objects by five kgs, is a reliable scale, but it does not give a valid measure of weight. But the other way is not true i.e., a valid instrument is always reliable.

Accordingly reliability is not as valuable as validity, but it is easier to assess reliability in comparison to validity. If the quality of reliability is satisfied by an instrument, then while using it we can be confident that the transient and situational factors are not interfering. Two aspects of reliability viz., stability and equivalence deserve special mention. The stability aspect is concerned with securing consistent results with repeated measurements of the same person and with the same instrument. We usually determine the degree of stability by comparing the results of repeated measurements. The equivalence aspect considers how much error may get
introduced by different investigators or different samples of the items being studied. A good way to test for the equivalence of measurements by two investigators is to compare their observations of the same events. Reliability can be improved in the following two ways:

  • By standardising the conditions under which the measurement takes place i.e., we must ensure that external sources of variation such as boredom, fatigue, etc., are minimised to the extent possible. That will improve stability aspect.
  • By carefully designed directions for measurement with no variation from group to group, by using trained and motivated persons to conduct the research and also by broadening the sample of items used. This will improve equivalence aspect.

3. Test of Practicality
The practicality characteristic of a measuring instrument can be judged in terms of economy, convenience and interpretability. From the operational point of view, the measuring instrument ought to be practical i.e., it should be economical, convenient and interpretable. Economy consideration suggests that some trade-off is needed between the ideal research project and that which the budget can afford. The length of measuring instrument is an important area where economic pressures are quickly felt. Although more items give greater reliability as stated earlier, but in the interest of limiting the interview or observation time, we have to take only few
items for our study purpose. Similarly, data-collection methods to be used are also dependent at times upon economic factors.

Convenience test suggests that the measuring instrument should be easy to administer. For this purpose one should give due attention to the proper layout of the measuring instrument. For instance, a questionnaire, with clear instructions (illustrated by examples), is certainly more effective and easier to complete than one which lacks these features. Interpretability consideration is specially important when persons other than the designers of the test are to interpret the results. The measuring instrument, in order to be interpretable, must be supplemented by  detailed instructions for administering the test;  scoring keys;  evidence about the reliability and  guides for using the test and for interpreting results.

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