3.5 A unified framework

This section brings together the four approaches outlined in this section into a unified framework.

Placing milestones and children onto the same line reveals their positions.

Figure 3.6: Placing milestones and children onto the same line reveals their positions.

Figure 3.6 shows the imaginary positions on a gross-motor continuum of three babies from Figure 2.1 at the age of 30 weeks. Both milestones and children are ordered along the same continuum. Thus, standing is more difficult than stepping, and at week 30, Doris is ahead of Walley in terms of motor development.

More generally, measurement is the process of locating milestones and children on a line. This line represents a latent variable, a continuous construct that defines the different poles of the concept that we want to measure. A latent variable ranges from low to high.

The first part of measurement is to determine the location of the milestones on the latent variable. In many cases, the instrument maker has already done that. For example, each length marker on a ruler corresponds to a milestone for measuring length. The manufacturer of the ruler has already placed the marks at the appropriate places on the tool, and we take for granted that each marker has been calibrated correctly.

A milestone for child development is similar to a length marker, but

  • we may not know how much development the milestone measures, so its location on the line is unknown, or uncertain;
  • we may not know whether the milestone measures child development at all so that it may have no location on the line.

The second part of measurement is to find the location of each child on the line. For child height, this is easy: We place the horizontal headpiece on top of the child’s head and read off the closest height marker. Since we lack a physical ruler for development, we must deduce the child’s location on the line from the responses on a series of well-chosen milestones.

By definition, we cannot observe the values of a latent variable directly. However, we may be able to measure variables (milestones) that are related to the latent variable. For example, we may have scores on tasks like standing or walking with help.

The measurement model specifies the relations between the actual measurements and the latent variable. Under a given measurement model, we may estimate the locations of milestones and children on the line. Section 4.5 discusses measurement models in more detail.