Assessing Affective Characteristics in Schools

Another book summary in partial fulfillment of my independent reading assignment for graduate school.

Brief Review

I was assigned to read Assessing Affective Characteristics in Schools by Lorin Anderson and Sid Bourke.  I found the text to be less technical than Summated Rating Scale Construction, but often more detailed in its advice.  (This shouldn’t be particularly surprising, since Anderson and Bourke used far more pages than Paul Spector.)  Anderson and Bourke also dedicated far more pages to convincing the reader of the necessity of assessing affective characteristics than Spector did trying to convince the reader of the necessity of constructing summated rating scales.  Over the past few years, I’ve become increasingly convinced of the importance of affective characteristics in learning, particularly in the role of motivation.  As a result, I sometimes felt that Anderson and Bourke were preaching to the choir, and wished I could read a less evangelical version of the text that would simply tell me what I needed to know to get the job done.  

Summary of Content

In the first chapter, Anderson and Bourke define the terms that comprise their title. They enumerate five features that they claim define affective characteristics, specifically, that affective characteristics are typical ways of feeling that are directed toward some target with some intensity. Anderson and Bourke define assessment as “the gathering of information about a human characteristic for a stated purpose.” The authors choose to focus on affective characteristics of students in the context of school settings. According to Anderson and Bourke, affective characteristics have value as means to ends and as ends in themselves. In the latter sections of the first chapter, Anderson and Bourke address common beliefs that sometimes impede the assessment of affective characteristics in schools. According to Anderson and Bourke, affective can and should be assessed in school settings.

Chapter two of Assessing Affective Characteristics in Schools focuses further on definitions, detailing the importance of clearly defining the specific affective characteristic or characteristics that one intends to assess. Anderson and Bourke also point out the importance of carefully defining the target to which the affective characteristic is directed. Conceptual definitions provide an understanding of abstract meaning while operational definitions specify behaviors that allow observers to make inferences about affective characteristics. The authors believe that conceptual and operational definitions must be closely aligned in order to provide useful information about a particular affective characteristic. The chapter provides a description of two major approaches for developing operational definitions of affective characteristics, the mapping sentence approach and the domain-reference approach. Whether one is creating a new assessment instrument or selecting a previously created assessment instrument, one should begin with a precise definition of the affective characteristic in question.

The third chapter discusses the major methods for collecting data about human characteristics, the observational method and the self-report method. Both methods have strengths and weaknesses. The observational method is limited by the observer’s powers of observation as well as their powers of interpretation. The self-report method is limited by respondent’s memory and/or integrity as well as the questioner’s ability to ask the right questions. Some studies have shown that observational and self-report methods that claim to assess the same characteristic provide dissimilar results. Anderson and Bourke believe that, at least in the context of schools, self-report methods are generally superior. However, the authors also state that they do not intend the chapter to be interpreted as a complete rejection of observational methods.

Good affective scales must have communication value, objectivity, validity, reliability, and interpretability. A questionnaire has communication value if the respondent can easily understand what the questionnaire is asking them. A scale has objectivity when it has minimized scorer or coder bias. An instrument has validity when it actually measures what it purports to measure. Scales are considered reliable when they have internal consistency, stability , and equivalence. Internal consistency is often measured by Cronbach’s alpha, stability may be measured using test-retest results, and equivalence may involve a comparison of multiple measures of the same affective characteristic. Questionnaires are considered to have interpretability when the results are reported in such a way that primary audience of the data can understand the results. Anderson and Bourke describe a number of common practices in the assessment of affective characteristics included the use of several varieties of Likert scales.

Anderson and Bourke provide advice for either selecting or designing assessment instruments for affective characteristics. When possible, they recommend selecting an existing an instrument over designing one. They enumerate several potential sources for locating existing assessment instruments,

  • electronic databases,
  • commercial publishing houses,
  • professional associations,
  • research institutes and laboratories, and
  • compendiums.

 They also provide a list of six steps for designing a new instrument:

  • preparing a blueprint,
  • writing the items,
  • writing directions,
  • having the draft instrument reviewed,
  • pilot testing the instrument, and
  • readying the instrument for administration.

 However, whether an individual will select an existing instrument or design a new one, Anderson and Bourke emphasize that the first steps are to determine the purpose of the assessment, identify the target population, and define the affective characteristics and targets. The authors list four common categories of purposes for affective assessment,

  • enhancing student learning,
  • improving the quality of educational programs,
  • evaluating the quality of educational programs, and
  • conforming to administrative or legislative mandates.

 Data analysis is the main focus of chapter six. The authors provide a list of five steps for developing and analyzing scale scores:

  • coding,
  • entering and checking data,
  • dealing with missing data,
  • recoding items as necessary,
  • checking scale validity and reliability, and
  • creating and reporting scale scores.

Anderson and Bourke address the importance of good data and provide advice for error checking, such as dual coding, as well as methods for dealing with small amounts of missing data. The authors also discuss using factor analysis to address empirical validity in multiscale instruments.

 The authors describe the process of interpreting assessment data for affective characteristics in chapter seven. They suggest using absolute and/or relative comparisons to assist in the interpretation of the data. Absolute comparisons require the identification of a neutral point and the creation of a neutral range as well as a range above the neutral range and a range below the neutral range. Relative comparisons may involve a normative sample or it may involve comparisons between known groups whose scale scores are expected to differ. Interpretations will depend on the comparison method used.

 Anderson and Bourke use chapter 8 to argue the importance of affective assessment in finding solutions to common education problems including student motivation, the design of effective learning environments, and character building.   


About Kimberly McCollum

I'm a former middle and high school science teacher and current stay at home mom.
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