, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 255-282

First online:

A basis for analyzing test-retest reliability

  • Louis GuttmanAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology and Anthropology, Cornell University

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Three sources of variation in experimental results for a test are distinguished: trials, persons, and items. Unreliability is defined only in terms of variation over trials. This definition leads to a more complete analysis than does the conventional one; Spearman's contention is verified that the conventional approach—which was formulated by Yule—introduces unnecessary hypotheses. It is emphasized that at least two trials are necessary to estimate the reliability coefficient. This paper is devoted largely to developinglower bounds to the reliability coefficient that can be computed from but asingle trial; these avoid the experimental difficulties of making two independent trials. Six different lower bounds are established, appropriate for different situations. Some of the bounds are easier to compute than are conventional formulas, and all the bounds assume less than do conventional formulas. The terminology used is that of psychological and sociological testing, but the discussion actually provides a general analysis of the reliability of the sum ofn variables.