Bruce Choppin: Visionary

Bruce Choppin was recognized the world over as the expert on item banking and longitudinal testing. His rise to ascendancy began in 1964 when he became Ben Wright's first "Rasch" student in the MESA program at the University of Chicago. After obtaining his PhD in 1967, he held positions at Cornell and Hebrew University before becoming Principal Research Officer and, later, Assistant Head of Research at the National Foundation for Educational Research in England and Wales (NFER). One of his prime responsibilities was the Assessment of Performance Unit (APU). He resigned from NFER in 1981, and died under problematic circumstances in Santiago, Chile in 1983 [July 15] on his way to take up a position in Singapore.

"His leading interest during his professional years was undoubtedly international consultation: he conducted seminars in educational measurement and research in East and West Africa, Israel, Finland, Germany, Iran, Australia, and Indonesia, among other places, and his enthusiasm for international education, particularly for tackling the genuine problems of delivering and assessing in non- Western countries, was very strong" (McArthur p.5).

He served as Chairman of the International Project Council on Item Banking of the International Association for the Evaluation of Achievement (IEA). Even in his native Britain, his talent was recognized. In 1980, he was voted President of the British Educational Research Association (BERA).

Nevertheless, it was in Britain that his vision of tracking, and hence promoting, educational progress collided with the juggernaut of entrenched interests. Here is their rejection of his work, written 4 years after his death:
"How were comparisons to be made between years? Would the tests be the same, irrespective of changes in the world outside, such as the availability of calculators? No, was the answer. Some of the questions would change each year, and allowance would be made for this by a statistical method known as Rasch. But would this work? The [Assessment of Performance] Unit lacked statistical expertise, and could not distinguish bad advice from good, so not until 1981, four years after warnings were raised [and after Choppin's resignation], did it accept that the method would not work." (Leonard p.2)

Yet Choppin had already dealt with this alleged failure of the Rasch method in his 1980 BERA Presidential Address:
"Testing (on a very limited scale) began in 1978, so we shall have to wait some years before we have any real answers. There are also doubts in my mind as to whether the APU is going to be allowed to monitor change except in one or two rather trivial aspects. APU activity in itself appears to be controversial even before we have any results. There are statisticians advising the [British government] that monitoring performance over time is impossible, and curriculum specialists who feel that even the attempt will destroy existing teaching patterns in the schools" (Choppin p.99).

[One of those statisticians was Harvey Goldstein (1980).]

Why should the British educational establishment have rebuffed even the slightest effort to monitor the state of British education? Britain had committed the blunder of believing its own propaganda, namely that its educational system, till recently based on Latin and social class, was the best in the world. But Choppin, as diplomatically as possible, pointed out the unpleasantly hard facts:
"In 1940, less than 5% of Soviet youth completed [high] school. The increase to 98% in forty years is even more dramatic than the increase in Indonesian primary education [from 10% to 85%]. For the USSR too, more has meant better for several decades, and in Britain, with our meager 25% completing [high] school, we clearly have some way to go." (Choppin p.93).

Now, 10 years after Choppin's death, the continuing decline in Britain's standing in the world together with competition from foreign, particularly US, testing organizations is forcing a reevaluation of British testing methodology. Under Choppin's supervision British psychometrics could have lead the world (to the great benefit of British students, teachers, and policy makers). Instead the entrenched interests condemned Britain to a 60 year regression.

Choppin BH (1981) Is education getting better? British Educational Research Journal 7(1), reprinted in Evaluation in Education (now International Journal of Educational Rsearch). 1985. 9(1)

Goldstein, H. (1980). Dimensionality, bias, independence and measurement scale problems in latent trait test score models. British Journal of Mathematical and Statistical Psychology 33: 234-246.

Leonard, M. (1987) Will the Rasch model ride again? Times Educational Supplement v. 3714 Sept 4.

McArthur DL (1985) Introduction: Memories of Bruce Choppin. Evaluation in Education. 9(1).


Bruce Choppin, visionary. Linacre JM. … Rasch Measurement Transactions, 1995, 8:4 p.394

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