Standard Setting, Cut-Scores, and Incorrect Decisions

Anthony James asks:

Is there a term in the testing literature to refer to the stability, accuracy or consistency of pass/fail decisions in high-stakes tests when we compare candidates scores with a cut-score?

I have come up with some terms such as 'false positives', 'false negatives' and 'decision validity'. Is there a more precise term?

Gregory Stone answers:

There are several concepts we must consider when setting standards.

First, standard setting is an evaluative decision. Measurement assists us (extremely well if justifiable, valid models are used) but ultimately it is an evaluative decision. We cannot be slaves to calculations. Instead, assuming you have a construct, and can therefore describe what a person who passes has mastered, changes to the derived cut score should be considered in terms of content, and realistically, political reality. "If I reduce the score to X, I am giving up mastery of Y sort of content," for example. If such a loss is OK, then proceed. If not, consider more than just your standard - consider your expectations, development of the content, task analysis, etc. We cannot put the weight of these qualitative decisions on the back of the quantification.

Second, "stability" and "consistency," and to a lesser extent accuracy are really parameters of validity (or validation). Reasoned standard setting models provide error terms. Reasoned standard setting models demonstrate the description of a meaningful, content-based standard. Reasoned standard setting excludes iterative processes that simply introduce external norming, and, like IRT (2-3PL) introduce sample/item specific information that negating the possibility of generalization, equating, etc. All such conversations revolve around "Construct Validity" but construct validity in Messick's holistic expression, not simply a collection of pieces. Whether epistemological (Messick) or ontological (Borsboom) the idea of construct validity is the same. Therefore, assuming a reasonable model is used, there is no "false," because the standard is defined as a particular set of content. It is what it is. If we disagree, it doesn't mean the process has produced a false result.

Third, you ask about fairness. That's an excellent point. Reasonable models include an accounting of error as said. However, more importantly why are we giving or denying a person a job on the basis of one test score, whatever the cut score? Why do we hold back children, or prevent them from graduating on the basis of one score? The premise is that a single test score (a measure of mastery) is equivalent to "competency." It is not. Competency involves much more than a single score, regardless of how fair the cut score and well-developed the test may be. We too often consider mastery and competency as interchangeable. This is a problem. So if you deny a person a job or reject an applicant from college, it does not mean the standard on the exam is problematic; rather, it reflects a process of hiring/admission that produces results that fail the tests of validity and validation. Would we, for example, involuntarily hospitalize an individual on the basis of one psychological assessment tool? Of course not. We would review their overall case file. We would talk with them at length during a session. Why then do we believe one exam should wield so much power in achievement or employment or certification?

Construct Validity (and Validation) are the only terms we really need I would suggest. This isn't a statistical problem (with false x's) but an evaluative one.

(Excerpted from a conversation on the Rasch Listserv)

Standard Setting, Cut-Scores, and Incorrect Decisions, G. Stone ... Rasch Measurement Transactions, 2011, 24:4, 1311

Please help with Standard Dataset 4: Andrich Rating Scale Model

Rasch Publications
Rasch Measurement Transactions (free, online) Rasch Measurement research papers (free, online) Probabilistic Models for Some Intelligence and Attainment Tests, Georg Rasch Applying the Rasch Model 3rd. Ed., Bond & Fox Best Test Design, Wright & Stone
Rating Scale Analysis, Wright & Masters Introduction to Rasch Measurement, E. Smith & R. Smith Introduction to Many-Facet Rasch Measurement, Thomas Eckes Invariant Measurement: Using Rasch Models in the Social, Behavioral, and Health Sciences, George Engelhard, Jr. Statistical Analyses for Language Testers, Rita Green
Rasch Models: Foundations, Recent Developments, and Applications, Fischer & Molenaar Journal of Applied Measurement Rasch models for measurement, David Andrich Constructing Measures, Mark Wilson Rasch Analysis in the Human Sciences, Boone, Stave, Yale
in Spanish: Análisis de Rasch para todos, Agustín Tristán Mediciones, Posicionamientos y Diagnósticos Competitivos, Juan Ramón Oreja Rodríguez

To be emailed about new material on
please enter your email address here:

I want to Subscribe: & click below
I want to Unsubscribe: & click below

Please set your SPAM filter to accept emails from welcomes your comments:

Your email address (if you want us to reply):


ForumRasch Measurement Forum to discuss any Rasch-related topic

Go to Top of Page
Go to index of all Rasch Measurement Transactions
AERA members: Join the Rasch Measurement SIG and receive the printed version of RMT
Some back issues of RMT are available as bound volumes
Subscribe to Journal of Applied Measurement

Go to Institute for Objective Measurement Home Page. The Rasch Measurement SIG (AERA) thanks the Institute for Objective Measurement for inviting the publication of Rasch Measurement Transactions on the Institute's website,

Coming Rasch-related Events
Sept. 15-16, 2017, Fri.-Sat. IOMC 2017: International Outcome Measurement Conference, Chicago,
Oct. 13 - Nov. 10, 2017, Fri.-Fri. On-line workshop: Practical Rasch Measurement - Core Topics (E. Smith, Winsteps),
Oct. 25-27, 2017, Wed.-Fri. In-person workshop: Applying the Rasch Model hands-on introductory workshop, Melbourne, Australia (T. Bond, B&FSteps), Announcement
Jan. 5 - Feb. 2, 2018, Fri.-Fri. On-line workshop: Practical Rasch Measurement - Core Topics (E. Smith, Winsteps),
Jan. 10-16, 2018, Wed.-Tues. In-person workshop: Advanced Course in Rasch Measurement Theory and the application of RUMM2030, Perth, Australia (D. Andrich), Announcement
Jan. 17-19, 2018, Wed.-Fri. Rasch Conference: Seventh International Conference on Probabilistic Models for Measurement, Matilda Bay Club, Perth, Australia, Website
April 13-17, 2018, Fri.-Tues. AERA, New York, NY,
May 25 - June 22, 2018, Fri.-Fri. On-line workshop: Practical Rasch Measurement - Core Topics (E. Smith, Winsteps),
June 29 - July 27, 2018, Fri.-Fri. On-line workshop: Practical Rasch Measurement - Further Topics (E. Smith, Winsteps),
Aug. 10 - Sept. 7, 2018, Fri.-Fri. On-line workshop: Many-Facet Rasch Measurement (E. Smith, Facets),
Oct. 12 - Nov. 9, 2018, Fri.-Fri. On-line workshop: Practical Rasch Measurement - Core Topics (E. Smith, Winsteps),
The HTML to add "Coming Rasch-related Events" to your webpage is:
<script type="text/javascript" src=""></script>


The URL of this page is