Almost 50 years since his first appointment in UWA’s Faculty of Education, Professor David Andrich’s illustrious career shows no signs of slowing down.
A world leader in the field of social science measurement, you could say Professor Andrich fell into the field of education thanks of all things, to Perth’s rising population.
“It was the 60s and more teachers were needed. If the Department of Education funded your degree, the deal was you were then bonded to them for the same amount of time it took to complete your qualification.
“So with a BSc in mathematics and applied mathematics I went to teach high school maths for a while,” he says.
During this time something must have struck a chord with the Professor who returned to UWA to complete a Bachelor of Education and subsequently take up a role in the Education Faculty in 1968.
“I joke that I’m not sure whether I was trapped or that I blossomed in the field. However by 1971, I found myself at the front end of modern test theory and never looked back.
“I completed my PhD in Measurement, Evaluation and Statistical Analysis at The University of Chicago and met Georg Rasch, an influential Danish mathematician and statistician. My time in Chicago and working with Rasch really shaped my career and still does to this day,” he says.
Rasch developed a model where principles used to underlie social science measurement had the same powerful properties as those found in science and mathematics. The model allows the comparison of results between tests and to give a current-day context, NAPLAN data is analysed using it.
This discovery revolutionised the field and transformed Professor Andrich’s career.
“I had been taught about measurement within education during my study but there had been no connection to what I understood measurement to be from a mathematical or scientific perspective. I’ve spent my career building on Rasch’s model and it is now applied widely throughout social science, psychology and health all around the world,” he says.
Currently UWA’s Chapple Professor of Education, Professor Andrich’s focus is on strengthening the University’s strategic position as a national leader in the field of measurement and assessment. A role he fulfils with support from ARC and industry colleagues.
“The area is still intellectually interesting to me. I thought my improvements to the model would end the loop, complete the story so to speak, but in actual fact it challenged the status quo and is still controversial today in some quarters.
“Some say the model’s too simple. Well, E=MC2 is simple but covers a lot of complicated things.
“Truth be told social measurement could be pretty boring, so a bit of controversy does make it interesting!”