Early History of Rasch Measurement in England

When George Rasch ignored the existing approaches to analyzing test data and published his novel approach in 1960 he made a major psychometric breakthrough opening up possibilities which even he did not foresee. The significant advance showed how sample free instruments could be created which measured on an equal interval scale and how person abilities could be estimated regardless of the items used.

The ideas were championed and extended by Ben Wright and his associates at the Measurement, Evaluation, Statistics and Assessment (MESA) Unit at the University of Chicago and picked up by others including Bruce Choppin in the UK. It was Choppin's vision to use the theoretical advances to overcome problems associated with monitoring standards over time. This would involve creating a database of items with known difficulty and, using, matrix sampling, create a national system which could be used to track standards whilst providing others with the means to probe more deeply (Choppin 1969, 1981).

This vision was ahead of its time and because of objections brought forward by skeptics, came to an abrupt halt in the late 1980. The health of educational testing in England was damaged and, arguably, has never fully recovered. As John Michael Linacre (1995) wrote

'Under Choppin's supervision British psychometrics could have led the world (to the great benefit of British students, teachers, and policy makers). Instead the entrenched interests condemned Britain to a 60 year regression'

The fundamental issues which were used to challenge the innovative approach have been discussed at length in the literature and, with hindsight, one can see the misunderstandings and lost opportunities which, at the time, were only seen by the farsighted. The issues included unidimensionality, the constancy and variation of item difficulties and the fit of people to the model.

Meanwhile workers such as Andrich and Linacre have taken the field to a different level and the influence of Rasch can be seen throughout the psychometrics world.

Thomas Kuhn (1962) would have recognized the paradigm shift that is still taking place.

Peter Tymms - Durham University (UK)
Panayiotis Panayides - Lyceum of Polemidia (Cyprus)


Choppin, B. H. (1969) An item bank using sample-free calibration, in: R. Wood & L. S. Skurnik (Eds) Item banking (Slough, National Foundation for Educational Research).

Choppin, B. H. (1981) Is education getting better? BERA Presidential Address, University College, Cardiff, 1980, British Educational Research Journal, 7(1), 1-15.

Kuhn, T. (1962) The structure of scientific revolutions (Chicago, IL, University of Chicago Press).

Linacre, J. M. (1995) Bruce Choppin: visionary. Available online at: https://www.rasch.org/rmt/ rmt84e.htm.

Rasch, G. (1960) Probabilistic models for some intelligence and attainment tests (reprinted in 1980 with a foreword and afterword by Benjamin D. Wright) (Chicago, IL, MESA Press).


A fuller account of the story recounted above and the issues surrounding it, including responses to the major criticisms of the model, can be found in:

Panayides, P., Robinson, C. and Tymms, P. (2009 ) 'The assessment revolution that has passed England by: Rasch measurement British Educational Research Journal 36, 4, 611-626

Early History of Rasch Measurement in England. Peter Tymms, Panayiotis Panayides … Rasch Measurement Transactions, 2012, 26:2 p. 1365

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

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