Social Work Psychometrics
Brian E. Perron, Bryan G. Victor, Michael G. Vaughn
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0156


Psychometrics is the branch of psychology focused on the measurement of psychological constructs, such as aptitude, intelligence, personality, and attitudes. The major research activities within this branch involve the construction of theory and instruments for the measurement of psychological constructs. The term psychometrics is commonly used in social work research, although its definition is more diffuse, typically referring to aspects of validity and reliability for a measure that may or may not be psychological in nature (e.g., social capital, organizational culture). The actual research activities that fall under the broader use of the term are critically important to the advancement of social work research. In fact, psychometrics research may be regarded as one of the most important aspects of social work research generally, given that such research activity is concerned with the quality of a given measurement or measurement strategy. We need good measurement in order to draw any reasonable conclusions from our research, and it is impossible to produce good knowledge from poor measurement. Thus, it is critical that social work researchers have a solid understanding of psychometrics in the broadest sense. The overall purpose of this annotated bibliography is to provide social work researchers with resources that will help ensure a solid grounding in issues of psychometrics—again, broadly defined. In doing so, this article considers the problems that are present in the current research, offering various resources to address and ameliorate them. We first present selected readings on key issues related to psychometrics in social work research. The key issues are organized around various subtopics, although it is important to recognize that many of the articles within any subtopic can be cross-classified with other subtopics. Following our review of key issues, we list a number of other resources that can be of potential value to social work researchers.

Reference Works

This section organizes important resources around key issues that fall within the general category of psychometrics. A critical starting point for either learning about or making decisions with respect to social measurement is Standards for Educational and Psychology Testing (American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, and National Council on Measurement in Education 1995). Commonly referred to as “the Standards,” this book serves as a gold standard for the majority of key measurement issues (e.g., validity and reliability) and practices (e.g., administration and decision making). Although it is produced by educational and psychological associations, the development and endorsement of this book by membership organizations, credentialing boards, governmental organizations, test publishers, and academic institutions is extensive, including (but not limited to) the NAACP, National Board for Certified Counselor, Department of Labor, US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, American Occupational Therapy Association, American Psychological Society, and American Board of Physical and Medical Rehabilitation. Unfortunately, none of the major social work organizations participated in the development or support of the Standards, but the absence of a social work presence does not diminish the relevance of this book for social work research. Readers of this bibliography are strongly encouraged to obtain and use the most current definitions and practices set forth in the Standards. Another major important development in the measurement literature is the comprehensive book Linn 1989, which contains seminal papers on the most critical measurement issues (e.g., validity and reliability). Blalock and Blalock 1968 and Nunnally and Bernstein 1994 provide solutions for many methodological issues encountered in measurement. While measurement advances have been observed since these publications, these classics are still regularly referenced and help inform measurement developments, making it necessary for researchers to be aware of these resources. Mills 1959 can help researchers situate the methodological measurement issues within a larger program of social research.

  • American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, and National Council on Measurement in Education. 1995. Standards for educational and psychological testing. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.

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    While the title uses the word “test,” it includes any type of measurement or evaluative procedure. The book is prescriptive in nature with respect to constructing and using measures. At the time of preparing this bibliography, a new version of the Standards was being developed and scheduled for publication.

  • Blalock, H. M., and A. B. Blalock. 1968. Methodology in social research. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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    This is considered a classic research text in the social sciences. It addresses key measurement problems that need to be addressed in order to achieve quality measurement systems. Although the book is over forty years old, its relevance to social work research remains.

  • Linn, R. L. 1989. Educational measurement. 3d ed. New York: Macmillan.

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    This edited book contains the seminal chapter by Messick on the topic of validity. Other informative chapters include (but are not limited to) reliability, principles and applications of item response theory, and test construction. While the theme of the book is educational measurement, the content has wide application to social science research.

  • Mills, C. W. 1959. The sociological imagination. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    This is considered a classic text for multidisciplinary training in social work research. It provides an essential grounding in social scientific thinking, which is necessary for development of measurement theory.

  • Nunnally, J. C., and I. H. Bernstein. 1994. Psychometric theory. 3d ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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    This is a classic text on psychometrics. While it covers the theoretical aspects of measurement, a significant amount of attention is also given to the basic statistics associated with measurement.

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