Great Careers in Testing

Thomas Oakland

Thomas Oakland, Ph.D.

Thomas Oakland PhD, ABPP, ABPN is professor emeritus at University of Florida. He has worked in more than 50 countries, including as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Brasilia. He is professor emeritus at the Universidad Lusíada do Porto, Portugal. He also holds honorary professorships in departments of psychology at the University of Hong Kong, Iberioamerican University in San Jose (Costa Rica), Universidad Científica del Sur (Peru), and the Universidad Nacional Frderico Villarreal (Peru). He served as visiting professor of psychology at the University of Macau and Beijing Normal University-Zhuhai. He was a professor in The University of Texas' Department of Educational Psychology for 27 years. Dr. Oakland served on approximately 120 doctoral dissertation committees and chaired 35.

Dr. Oakland has coauthored or co-edited 15 books, approximately 100 chapters and 200 articles, served as editor of the Journal of School Psychology and as Associate Editor of School Psychology Internationally, and serves or served on the editorial boards of an additional 70 professional journals. He authored or co-authored 10 standardized tests, assisted in the adaptation of six tests, and was a member of the test development teams for 11 tests. He was a member of the task forces that wrote the American Psychological Association's 1999 Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing and its 2002 Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct.

He has served as presidents of the International School Psychology Association, International Test Commission, International Association of Applied Psychology's Division of Assessment and Evaluation, International Foundation of Children's Education, and American Psychological Association's Division of School Psychology.

Dr. Oakland is board-certified in neuropsychological and school psychology, has a forensic practice, and served as a consultant to approximately 200 school boards, other agencies, and companies. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, American Academy of School Psychology, and the American College of Professional Neuropsychology, and was a founding board member of the American Board of Professional Neuropsychology and the Society for the Study of School Psychology.

Dr. Oakland received the American Psychological Association Division of School Psychology's 1990 Distinguished Service Award and its 2000 Senior Scientist Award, the National Association of School Psychologists 2001 Legends Award, Indiana University's 2003 Distinguished Alumni Award, the University of Florida's 2004-2006 Research Foundation Award and its 2004 Senior Faculty Distinguished International Educator of the Year Award, the Florida Association of School Psychologists 2005 Willard Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award, the University of Florida College of Education's 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award, and the American Psychological Association's Award for Distinguished Contributions to the International Advancement of Psychology.

Your Career

In August 2012 you will be the keynote speaker at The International Conference on Educational Measurement and Evaluation (ICEME). What will be some of the highlights of your presentation Educational Assessment in a Multicultural Learning Environment?
My talk will focus on the status of test development and use internationally. I have a fairly good understanding of its status with children and youth, having just completed a study of its status in 70 countries. I also draw upon other literature that examines the status of test development and use with adults. I will discuss the conditions that both promote and impede test development and use. I also am presenting a workshop on test development prior to the conference. I hope these efforts will help spur test development and use in the Philippines.

You have worked in over 50 countries – what has been the inspiration for your career being so international?
I was fortunate to engage in various leadership activities in the United States (US) and then attempted to invest my resources to determine if I can assist in the development of psychology internationally, especially in emerging countries. I have had two life goals: to strive to be a good father and to strive to acquire competence. I began my international work and related travel with my two sons, the goal of which was to introduce them to much of the world. I also found that, through my work, I was acquiring a level of competence unattainable if I were to work only in the States.

What were your roles as President of the International Test Commission? What are the most important things ITC does?
The ITC was a relatively young organization when I joined its leadership team. I knew the strength of any profession is directly attributable to the strength of its professional associations. Thus, I knew I needed to help strength the ITC's infrastructure and, through this effort, strengthen test development and use in ways I could not imagine at the time. For example, I directed its first international conference, one held at Oxford University. The success of this effort gave confidence to the ITC that it could sponsor other conferences. The ITC now holds conferences every two years, events that are the association's major source of revenue. Additionally, I lobbied for establishing a professional journal. It now is highly respected and provides a major outlet for scholarship.

The ITC provides leadership on various issues impacting test development and use. Contributions include establishing guidelines on various topics important to testing internationally (e.g., test ethics, test adaptations, testing over the Internet), its journal, international conferences, and support for young scholars interested in test development.

What are key ideas from your How universal are test development and use? Assessment of abilities and competencies in an era of globalization.
This is the lead chapter in a book edited by Professor Grigorenko the title of which is Assessment of abilities and competencies in an era of globalization. It traces the development of testing in the behavioral science, discusses the conditions that support and impede its development, and provides a summary of the status of test development and use internationally. I would encourage those interested in test development and use to read it.

At the University of Florida you teach Psychoeducational Assessment III. What are the course highlights?
I am professor emeritus at the University of Florida. I currently volunteer to supervise a number of doctoral students completing their dissertations and no longer teach this class on assessment. When I did, my focus was to highlight standards for test use found both in our academic literature (e.g. Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing) together with professional and clinical issues. I helped write the current ethics codes for the American Psychological Association and the International School Psychology Association. Thus, ethical issues also were emphasized. I believe strongly in the impact of temperament on behavior. Thus, the learning styles of students' temperament styles were emphasized. This graduate course required my students to assess special needs children. Thus, they were encouraged to use various tests and other assessment methods. The course emphasized communication skills, both oral and written. The course also introduced students to the important services of specialists in audiology and speech/language pathology.

If you had only a 20 word sentence to convey what you know and do best, what would it be?
Teach on my passionate topics, promote oral and written communication, and remain dedicated to my students.

Professionally, what do you most enjoy thinking about?
I most enjoy thinking about and making plans to further the next frontiers of what we need to do in reference to various professional issues. I am intuitive and thus am an architect of ideas and organizations. I often express ideas that at first are not approved by the organizations with which I am affiliated. However, ten or so years later, they often see their value and then activate them. I want to leave a legacy of improvement, especially in reference to professional associations.

Where and how do you typically think of some of your best ideas?
My best ideas come from various sources, including my readings, my graduate students, and my involvement in professional associations with like-minded colleagues.

What career accomplishments are you most proud of and what do you most want to achieve in the future?
I believe my developing the Students Styles Questionnaire, a measure of children's temperament, is one of my most important contributions and ideas. The test has not found a solid market in the US. However, we have used it to acquire data on children in 25 countries, including the Philippines. The test of adaptive behavior Patti Harrison and I developed, the Adaptive Behavior Assessment System, is doing well both domestically and internationally. Our work with the Psychological Corporation, including Dr. JJ Zhu (who you also have interviewed), contributed importantly to its success. I currently am working in the Peoples' Republic of China, assisting in its adaptation here.

I am delighted to have had the opportunity to learn psychology while teaching and conducting research at The University of Texas at Austin—a truly outstanding institution. While there we developed the best school psychology program in the world. I am proud of my collaborative work with exceptional graduate students at UT and more recently at the University of Florida from whom I learned much.

I also am delighted to have been a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Brasilia and to develop long-standing and productive professional relationships with various Brazilian colleagues, especially Dr. Solange Wechsler. For example, she and I initially formed the Brazilian Association of Educational and School Psychologists, an association that provides needed support the delivery of school psychological services in Brazil.

My international work largely has been in countries in which psychology is emerging. I want to continue my work internationally, principally in emerging countries. My 13-year work in Gaza was especially meaningful—albeit resulting in a price: that of being discriminated against by some colleagues for my work with Palestinians. This work contributed to my understanding of efforts to promote development in children and youth who display mental retardation/intellectual disability. I also learned much and came to appreciate some of the problems living in an occupied land.

International Testing

How would you rank the top 5 benefits of testing in our society?
Test development and use constitute psychology's most important technical contribution to behavioral science and to society. Tests allow us to accurately describe behavior—a condition needed to proceed to other activities. Additionally, they assist us in estimating future behaviors, providing guidance, helping establish interventions, evaluating progress, screening for special needs, diagnosing, placing, credentialing, retaining/promoting, and in research. In short, the use of tests provides an efficient means to obtain reliable and potentially valid information.

How would you rank the top 5 countries in terms of the quality of their assessments and why? What countries or regions are coming on strong and which are lagging?
I assume the question is directed toward countries that have well established test development infrastructures that respond to national needs while also impacting test use elsewhere. More tests are developed in the US than in other countries. Other leaders include Germany, the UK, Mexico, and to some extent Italy. France, Israel, and Mexico also have contributed importantly. The emerging countries include Argentina, Brazil, Romania, and possibly Spain. The list of those who are lagging is long and generally includes all of Central America and most of South America, the Middle East, Africa, India, Asia, and most countries that comprised the former Soviet Union.

Testing flourishes only in markets that have a democratic form of government, value individual differences and meritocracy, science, and technology, and have and commit the financial and professional resources needed to support the development or adaptation of tests, their purchase, and use.

What are the most common assessments that school psychologists use in the U.S. and internationally?
The assessments commonly used by school psychologists in the U.S. focus on individually administered measures of achievement, intelligence, psychopathology, ADHD, social development, and adaptive behavior.

Internationally, data from my recently completed survey of test development and use in 70 countries found tests most commonly assessed intelligence (school psychologists internationally have a love affair with measures of intelligence), visual-motor development, personality, and achievement. The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children clearly is the most widely used individually administered measure in the world. It is found in virtually all countries in some form (authorized or pirated).

Where are debates and conflicts in the world of assessment? What types of organizations and interests are often at odds with one another?
Some organizations believe children are over-tested and thus advocate for reduced testing. Additionally, the use of data from achievement tests to evaluate teachers and the quality of education is controversial. Many persons correctly advocate for the use of a wider set of data to accomplish this important task. Other conflicts occur between those who favor qualitative assessment over quantative assessment.

Another conflict, subtle in form, is associated with a movement away from diagnosis and toward intervention planning and monitoring. Diagnosis does not inform intervention. Parents, teachers, and others are requesting information that can be used to promote growth and development, not that categorizes children through diagnosis.

Internationally, what types of organizations have the most influence in testing? Do private or public organizations have the largest overall influence? What is the best balance in your opinion?
Psychologists are very dependent on the production of tests by testing companies. Thus, both large international and smaller national companies that develop and market tests provide an invaluable service.

Again, the mark of a profession is found in the strength of its professional associations. Thus, professional associations have important roles, in part, through creating and promulgating high standards for test development and use, helping to create excellent scholarship that addresses testing issues, and serving as advocates for quality undergraduate and graduate education that prepares later professionals to develop, evaluate, and use tests well.

The International Test Commission has considerable influence on helping to create scholarship and standards that influence test development and use. The European Federation of Psychologists' Associations also is providing important regional leadership. As noted below, the American Psychological Association's influence also is very strong in reference to ethical issues. Additionally, its Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing provides the strongest standards for test development and use.

What are the key ethics standards impacting international test development and use?
Two ethical issues are most critical: failure to acknowledge copyright provisions and the photocopying of tests. Tests have copyright. Thus, one cannot take what others own for their use without providing compensation. However, many tests are translated or adapted without the approval of the test company that owns the test.

Additionally, psychologists in many countries, especially emerging countries, photocopy tests rather than paying for them. This is both unethical and illegal. This practice also prevents the establishment of testing companies in these countries.

However, the broader issue is that few national psychological associations have ethics codes that address ethics issues. Thus, psychologists both lack knowledge as to proper ethical standards and are not held to standards common in more advanced countries. The American Psychological Association's code of ethical behavior and conduct provides the clearest and most extensive set of ethical standards that address testing issue. Its code has been instrumental in the development of similar codes in the Peoples' Republic of China, South Africa, and Turkey.

What have you found to be some of the most unlikely methods of measurement in other parts of the world?
The use of story telling is used commonly in Sub-Saharan Africa. This topic rarely is discussed in literature.

How is education and testing in the U.S. most different from the rest of the world?
The nature of educational and psychological testing in the US is similar to that found in many other countries that strive to offer quality education and have a strong respect for psychology. The frequency of test use in the US generally is greater than that found in comparable developed countries. One of our greatest challenges lies in constructing tests that are meaningful and useful for the millions of minority children and those from low-income families in our country.

When will most government sponsored exams be digitized and delivered via computer? How will this process take place and by whom?
The use of digitized government-sponsored exams increasingly is common in the US. Their use in many other advanced countries also is common. However, their use in other countries may not occur in my lifetime. Many countries that still use paper ballots when voting will not rush to institute digitized exams.

Education and Testing

What have you discovered to be the most important test theories and how do they compare and conflict with one another?
The Cattell-Horn-Carroll theory of intelligence has had a decided impact on the assessment of intelligence. Jung's theory of temperament has had a decided impact on the assessment of temperament.

How is education reform changing the testing landscape?
The public is demanding information that examines the effectiveness of its public schools. Test data constitute one important source of this information. Educational testing is strong only in those countries that aspire to develop world-class public education systems.

As a result, in some locations, teachers are "teaching to the test", that is, the curriculum is tailored to help students acquire the knowledge and skills that later will be assessed. This is an unfortunate misuse of tests.

In the realm of assessment over the next 5-10 years, do you see more consolidation / centralization or more fragmentation / decentralization? Which is a better outcome and why?
Three famous psychologists who could not find suitable publishing outlets for their work developed the Psychological Corporation approximately 100 years ago. It later became the finest test development company in the world. Pearson purchased the company within the last decade for nearly $1billion—surely a sign of industry consolidation.

The large and major test development companies will continue to have a decided impact on what tests are available and their cost. Consolidation is not likely to serve the public welfare in that it is likely to lead to fewer new tests and increased costs for them. Smaller test companies may emerge, thus changing this landscape.

What are the 5 most important tests in all of history?
The Rorschach, Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Adults, Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, Bender Gestalt, and the Myers/Briggs Indicator. Prior measures of intelligence developed by the US military formed the basis for the WAIS and later the WISC. Thus, they too should be on this list.

If you had absolute power to change the world of assessment, what are the top 3 things you would do or change?
First and foremost, link test to interventions. Second, ensure they are used property and modestly. Third, convey test results to those who can use the information most, namely children and youth.

How do you envision the future of education and testing?
The future is very strong. Many countries increasingly will continue to develop or adapt tests and prepare professionals to use them well. This will require attention and leadership from professional associations.

Testing increasingly will be offered over the Internet. This will have both desired and undesired outcomes. The desired outcomes include being able to deliver tests to virtually all locations internationally, update norms frequently, help insure the tests are administered and scored property and decrease costs. The undesired outcome is that this process bypasses professionals who historically have administered, scored, and reported test results. Everyone with a laptop can develop and deliver tests internationally, thus bypassing quality standards for test development and their psychometric qualities. Let the buyer beware.

Great Careers in Testing is an interview series featuring many of the most distinguished and influential leaders from the world of assessment.


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