Measurement and Communities of Inquiry

Metrological standards have long been recognized as essential to fair, just economic and legal relations. The French revolution gave rise not only to nascent democratic institutions but to the metric system, and US Presidents Washington and Jefferson were intensely interested in the standardization of currency and weights and measures as necessary for promoting the greater good of society.

On the downside, one of the most important complaints about the emerging global economy is that exclusive focus on manufacturing, product, and financial standards often has profound negative consequences for human well-being, social relations, and the natural environment. And quite apart from our apparent incapacity to export democratically and environmentally sound values, as De Soto (1989, 2000) says, we don't even export capitalism very well, since World Bank and IMF policies are imposed on many countries that have not yet built up the infrastructure of financially and legally negotiable titles and deeds necessary for the successful implementation of those policies.

The problem with globalization may not be capitalism itself, but its incomplete state of development (see De Soto, as well as Hawken, Lovins, & Lovins 1999). The general failure of the various communist and socialist experiments suggests that the only way to counteract the negative consequences of capitalism may be to trace out its root metaphor in the natural reproductive capacities of livestock to its logical consequences. As De Soto points out, following Latour (1987, p. 223), the infrastructure of fungible financial instruments is after all predicated on an abstract model of capital in which value is brought to life only when it is expressed in a stable metric that can be added up across properties owned, or divided into shares and sold, without any physical change to, or manipulation of, the property itself.

Though neither De Soto nor Latour recognize it, this metaphor of living capital is itself rooted in the Socratic art of midwifery, which has its "highest point" in "the power to prove by every test whether the offspring of a young man's thought is a false phantom or instinct with life and truth" (Plato 1961, p. 855). Midwifery's proofs and tests are fundamentally mathematical in the sense of requiring a transparent clarity essential to the simplest and most fully achieved forms understanding, those of arithmetic and geometry. Because of its role in bringing understanding to life, mathematical clarity constitutes the metaphysical foundations of not only academia and science (Heidegger 1977; Fisher 1992, 2003a, b, c, d), but also of the various survey-based measures essential to establishing capitalist property rights.

Rasch's models for measurement make it possible to deploy, explicitly and deliberately, these metaphysical principles in ways that extend capital accounting and management methods (Fisher 2002) to the domains of human (Fitz-enz 2000), social (Putnam 1993), and natural capital (Hawken, et al. 1999). But the implications of Rasch's models for redressing the imbalances created by the currently incomplete implementation of capitalist principles cannot be appreciated until the models are more fully integrated into a larger metrological framework.

This integration can begin in a number of different ways, but to pick one, it is of interest that a significant body of research (for instance, Rogoff, Matusov, & White, 1996) stresses the participatory involvement of learners and teachers in communities of inquiry. The questions they leave largely unasked are:
* What is the medium of this involvement? In other words, what are the behaviors, signs, and symbols through which this involvement is coordinated and mediated?
* How is learning and/or development expressed in the medium?
* How do we know learning and/or development when we see it?
* How do we locate one another relative to this medium?
* How should this medium be structured, distributed, and maintained in order to maximize the cohesiveness of the community of inquiry?

Is the community of inquiry defined by a focus on a common question or set of questions expressed in a common language? If so, is the language defined vaguely, as "in English" or "in Urdu"? Is the set of relevant questions defined concretely as a particular collection of test items dealing with "reading ability," for instance? Is the common language for expressing this construct constituted only by test-dependent ordinal scores that require complete data from one single instrument's set of questions? Or is the language defined precisely, as "in Lexiles" (Burdick & Stenner 1996, Stenner & Burdick 1997; Smith 1998; Wright 1995), an abstract unit of linear measurement that can be read off any properly calibrated reading test, and that can be universally interpreted as predicting 75% reading comprehension for any reader with a Lexile reading ability measure that matches any book's Lexile readability measure?

Even if the common questions and language are relatively precisely defined in terms of content, by what criteria does anyone know whether all participants in the dialogue are talking about the same thing? Via vague criteria, such as "using the same words for roughly the same behaviors" in the context of different tests giving incomparable scores in nonlinear metrics? Or via precise criteria, as in the context of having the same measure for the same readability or reading ability everywhere and any time?

Communities of inquiry probably cannot begin to realize their potential for collective, distributed thinking (Latour 1995) until metrological networks of evidence experimentally test the hypotheses that a single object dominates the conversation, and that there is in fact a stable, additive, and divisible line of inquiry functioning as a reference standard. As Alder (2002, p. 2) puts it,

"To do their job, standards must operate as a set of shared assumptions, the unexamined background against which we strike agreements and make distinctions. So it is not surprising that we take measurement for granted and consider it banal. Yet the use a society makes of its measures expresses its sense of fair dealing. That is why the balance scale is a widespread symbol of justice. ... Our methods of measurement define who we are and what we value."

The disciplinary, professional identity of communities of inquiry, and their effectiveness in creating new learning, would then seem to rest on the Socratic proofs and tests of hypothesized mathematical clarity, and the shared languages universal uniform metrics make possible (Fisher 2003a, b, c, d).

When both the intra- and inter-laboratory aspects of metrology in the human sciences are achieved, Rasch measurement will have been expanded from its current focus on within-laboratory instrument ruggedness tests (Wernimont 1977, 1978) to also include the between-laboratory (Mandel 1977, 1978) equating studies and the item content prediction theories necessary for universal uniform metrics (for more on this and relevant historical/philosophical considerations, see Fisher 1992, 1993, 1995, etc.; if anyone else is doing work in this area, please let me know so I can cite it). And when:
* Rasch's models for measurement are integrated into the larger metrological framework,
* the variables specific to each different form of capital (human, social, and natural) are expressed in universal uniform metrics (so far as this turns out to be possible),
* systems for maintaining, improving, applying, and learning from these metrics are implemented,
* and the metrics are deployed everywhere they are needed in forms that provide the relevant quantitative and qualitative information at the point of use,
then we will be en route to completing capitalism in a way that promotes the growth of healthy, fulfilled human beings living in balanced, sustainable social and natural ecologies.

That at least is a dream of an epic adventure, a goal worthy of people great enough to pursue it. It has long been argued that the development of stable, coherent individual and group identities follows from the ways in which a self is tested by the challenges it faces (Bettelheim 1967; Zaner 1981) and is shaped the stories it can tell about itself (Ricoeur 1992). The emergence of a coherent and friendly global human identity depends on what challenges we select as testing grounds and how we yield to or aggressively meet those challenges. To make no choice at all is still to choose to fail. It would be quite another thing, however, to choose to follow through on the principles implied and assumed in not only the deep structures of our economic and democratic institutions, but also in the structures of nature's balanced and sustainable ecologies.

There is no doubt need to further validate the relevant principles and methods, but their logic, their history of practical successes to date, and the ubiquity of human suffering, social injustice, and environmental disasters in the world today strongly suggest that the day may be approaching when we will deploy a systematic program for tuning the instruments of the human, social, and ecological sciences, with the aim of harmonizing human, social, and ecological relations on a global scale. Whether any of us alive today will be around to play in the resulting ensemble and/or dance to its music may largely depend on how much energy we put into making it happen.

William P. Fisher, Jr.

Alder, K. (2002). The measure of all things: The seven-year odyssey and hidden error that transformed the world. New York, New York: The Free Press.

Bettelheim, B. (1967). The empty fortress: Infantile autism and the birth of the self. New York, New York: The Free Press.

Burdick, H., & Stenner, A. J. (1996). Theoretical prediction of test items. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 10(1), 475

De Soto, H. (1989). The other path: The economic answer to terrorism. New York, New York: Basic Books.

De Soto, H. (2000). The mystery of capital: Why capitalism triumphs in the West and fails everywhere else. New York, New York: Basic Books.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (1992). Objectivity in measurement: A philosophical history of Rasch's separability theorem. In M. Wilson (Ed.), Objective measurement: Theory into practice. Vol. I (pp. 29-58). Norwood, New Jersey: Ablex Publishing Corporation.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (1993). Scale-free measurement revisited. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 7(1), 272-3

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (1995). Opportunism, a first step to inevitability? Rasch Measurement Transactions, 9(2), 426

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (1996, Winter). The Rasch alternative. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 9(4), 466-467

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (1997a). Physical disability construct convergence across instruments: Towards a universal metric. Journal of Outcome Measurement, 1(2), 87-113.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (1997b, June). What scale-free measurement means to health outcomes research. Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation State of the Art Reviews, 11(2), 357-373.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (1999). Foundations for health status metrology: The stability of MOS SF-36 PF-10 calibrations across samples. Journal of the Louisiana State Medical Society, 151(11), 566-578.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2000a). Objectivity in psychosocial measurement: What, why, how. Journal of Outcome Measurement, 4(2), 527-563.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2000b). Rasch measurement as the definition of scientific agency. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 14(3), 761.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2001). Review of John Roche's The Mathematics of Measurement: A Critical History. Journal of Applied Measurement, 2(4), 426-440.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2002, Spring). "The Mystery of Capital" and the human sciences. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 15(4), 854

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2003a). The mathematical metaphysics of measurement and metrology: Towards meaningful quantification in the human sciences. In A. Morales (Ed.), Renascent pragmatism: Studies in law and social science (p. in press). Brookfield, VT: Ashgate Publishing Co.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2003b, December). Mathematics, measurement, metaphor, metaphysics: Part I. Implications for method in postmodern science. Theory & Psychology, 13(6), in press.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2003c, December). Mathematics, measurement, metaphor, metaphysics: Part II. Accounting for Galileo's "fateful omission." Theory & Psychology, 13(6), in press.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2003d, April 26-7). Provoking professional identity development: The postmodern legacy of Benjamin Drake Wright. In E. Smith (Chair), Presentations 7. A Celebration of the Career and Contributions of Benjamin D. Wright, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and the Institute for Objective Measurement, Chicago, Illinois.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2004). Meaning and method in the human sciences. Human Studies: A Journal for Philosophy and the Social Sciences, 27, in press.

Fitz-enz, J. (2000). The ROI of human capital: Measuring the economic value of employee performance. New York, New York: AMACOM.

Hawken, P., Lovins, A., & Lovins, H. L. (1999). Natural capitalism: Creating the next industrial revolution. New York, New York: Little, Brown, and Co.

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Rogoff, B., Matusov, E., & White, C. (1996). Models of teaching and learning: Participation in a community of learners. In D. R. Olson & N. Torrance (Eds.), The handbook of education and human development: New models of learning, teaching and schooling (pp. 388-414). Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell Publishers, Inc.

Smith, R. R. (1998). Using Lexile reading measures to improve literacy. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 12(3), 644

Stenner, A. J., & Burdick, D. S. (1997, January 3). The objective measurement of reading comprehension. (visited 10 March 2003) (Ed.), [Response to technical questions raised by the California Department of Education Technical Study Group], Durham, North Carolina: MetaMetrics, Inc.

Wernimont, G. (1977, March). Ruggedness evaluation of test procedures. ASTM Standardization News, 5, 13-16.

Wernimont, G. (1978, December). Careful intralaboratory study must come first. ASTM Standardization News, 6, 11-12.

Wright, B. D., Stenner, A. J., Vanezky, R. (1995, Winter). Reading in America: Stenner's Lexiles confirmed. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 8(4), 387-388

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Measurement and Communities of Inquiry, Fisher W.P.Jr. … Rasch Measurement Transactions, 2003, 17:3 p.936-938

Rasch-Related Resources: Rasch Measurement YouTube Channel
Rasch Measurement Transactions & Rasch Measurement research papers - free An Introduction to the Rasch Model with Examples in R (eRm, etc.), Debelak, Strobl, Zeigenfuse Rasch Measurement Theory Analysis in R, Wind, Hua Applying the Rasch Model in Social Sciences Using R, Lamprianou El modelo métrico de Rasch: Fundamentación, implementación e interpretación de la medida en ciencias sociales (Spanish Edition), Manuel González-Montesinos M.
Rasch Models: Foundations, Recent Developments, and Applications, Fischer & Molenaar Probabilistic Models for Some Intelligence and Attainment Tests, Georg Rasch Rasch Models for Measurement, David Andrich Constructing Measures, Mark Wilson Best Test Design - free, Wright & Stone
Rating Scale Analysis - free, Wright & Masters
Virtual Standard Setting: Setting Cut Scores, Charalambos Kollias Diseño de Mejores Pruebas - free, Spanish Best Test Design A Course in Rasch Measurement Theory, Andrich, Marais Rasch Models in Health, Christensen, Kreiner, Mesba Multivariate and Mixture Distribution Rasch Models, von Davier, Carstensen
Rasch Books and Publications: Winsteps and Facets
Applying the Rasch Model (Winsteps, Facets) 4th Ed., Bond, Yan, Heene Advances in Rasch Analyses in the Human Sciences (Winsteps, Facets) 1st Ed., Boone, Staver Advances in Applications of Rasch Measurement in Science Education, X. Liu & W. J. Boone Rasch Analysis in the Human Sciences (Winsteps) Boone, Staver, Yale Appliquer le modèle de Rasch: Défis et pistes de solution (Winsteps) E. Dionne, S. Béland
Introduction to Many-Facet Rasch Measurement (Facets), Thomas Eckes Rasch Models for Solving Measurement Problems (Facets), George Engelhard, Jr. & Jue Wang Statistical Analyses for Language Testers (Facets), Rita Green Invariant Measurement with Raters and Rating Scales: Rasch Models for Rater-Mediated Assessments (Facets), George Engelhard, Jr. & Stefanie Wind Aplicação do Modelo de Rasch (Português), de Bond, Trevor G., Fox, Christine M
Exploring Rating Scale Functioning for Survey Research (R, Facets), Stefanie Wind Rasch Measurement: Applications, Khine Winsteps Tutorials - free
Facets Tutorials - free
Many-Facet Rasch Measurement (Facets) - free, J.M. Linacre Fairness, Justice and Language Assessment (Winsteps, Facets), McNamara, Knoch, Fan

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