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Core Commitments: Educating Students for Personal and Social Responsibility

Cognitive-Structural Measurements of Personal and Social Responsibility Development in Students

The vast majority of measurements utilized to assess personal and social responsibility have arisen from cognitive-structural theories of moral development. In most cases, the development and refinement of these measurements has been well documented, sufficient reliability and validity have been demonstrated, and applicability to multiple and diverse populations has been established. General information on the format and use of each the assessments tools can be found below.

Moral Judgment Interview (MJI)
Defining Issues Test (DIT)
Sociomoral Reflection Measure-Short Form (SRM-SF)
Ethic of Care Interview (ECI)
Measure of Moral Orientation (MMO)
Measure of Intellectual Development (MID)
Learning Environment Preferences (LEP)
Reflective Judgment Interview (RJI)
Sentence Completion Test (SCT)
Student Developmental Task and Lifestyle Assessment (SDTLA)

Instruments from Other Perspectives
Back to Assessment Overview

Moral Judgment Interview (MJI) is a structured interview measurement that provides an assessment of subjects’ development in stages one through five of Kohlberg’s moral reasoning scheme. Utilizing an interview format, the MJI is a qualitative, production style instrument. Three parallel forms of the MJI are in use, and each has three hypothetical moral dilemmas with standardized probes for clarifying subjects’ reasoning. Among these is the oft-cited “Heinz dilemma:” in this hypothetical situation, a man whose wife is dying of cancer must decide if he will steal a drug from a chemist who—simply because he wants to make money—is charging more than the man can pay. “Standard Issue Scoring” of the MJI involves categorizing subjects’ responses first by two standard issue categories for each dilemma (for the Heinz dilemma, preservation of life or upholding the law), then by modal elements (upholding normative order) and value elements (egoistic consequences, utilitarian consequences, or fairness), and then by norms (life, property, truth, punishment, and so forth). A comprehensive 75 scoring manual is used to generate a global stage score on Kohlberg’s model for interviewees that can indicate mixed stage positionality in addition to pure stages.

  • For a detailed discussion: Colby, A., and L. Kohlberg, eds. 1987. The measurement of moral judgment: Theoretical foundations and research validation. Vol. 1. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press)

Defining Issues Test (DIT) is a paper-and-pencil, recognition-type test based on Kohlberg’s model of moral reasoning. Perhaps the most common measure of moral development, the DIT has been used in well over 500 studies. The basic premises of the DIT are to present enough information regarding a moral dilemma to activate subjects’ existing moral schemas, which in turn should guide subjects to respond consistently on the test, and thereby reveal their level of moral reasoning. The DIT includes six moral dilemmas, including the Heinz Dilemma. The basic structure of the DIT is to present each moral dilemma and then ask subjects to indicate which of the two actions or resolutions to the dilemma they endorse. Next, the DIT presents twelve stage-prototypic statements for each dilemma and asks subjects to rank each statement—in terms of importance to their decision—on a five-item Likert scale. Finally, subjects rank the statement that is most important in their thinking, as well as second, third, and fourth in importance. Although several indices were developed to report scores, the most widely used is the “P” index, which measures the percentage of principled moral reasoning. Recently, the DIT was revised and reformulated into the DIT-2. The DIT-2 features more modern social dilemmas, including a father stealing food for his starving family, a newspaper reporter exposing a favored political candidate’s criminal background, a school board holding a contentions and dangerous meeting, a doctor giving an overdose of painkillers to a suffering patient, and college students demonstrating against U.S. foreign policy. The format is the same as the DIT; however a new—or “N2”—index has been developed and is considered to be more powerful than the traditional “P” index.

  • For more detailed discussions: Rest, 1979b. Development in judging moral issues. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. and Rest, J., D. Narvaez, M. J. Bebeau, and S. J. Thoma. 1999. Postconventional moral thinking: A Neo-Kohlbergian approach. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
  • For a comprehensive review of DIT research in higher education: King, P. M., and M. J. Mayhew. 2004. Theory and research on the development of moral reasoning among college students. In Higher education: Handbook of Theory and Research, Vol. XIX, ed. J.C. Smart, 375-440. New York: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Sociomoral Reflection Measure-Short Form (SRM-SF) is a paper-and-pencil, production-style measure that assesses maturity of sociomoral reflection. Subjects’ maturity level is measured by scoring their justifications for moral behaviors such as promise keeping, telling the truth, helping parents, saving a friend, and obeying the law. For each of eleven questions related to these behaviors, subjects indicate whether that behavior is very important, important, or not important to them, and then are asked to describe their reason for this decision in short-essay form. The SRM-SF is based on previous instruments designed by Gibbs, for which the major hallmark is the replacement of hypothetical moral dilemmas with subjects’ evaluation—via level of importance—of moral behaviors. A major limitation of the SRM-SF for use with college-level students is that it was primarily designed for children and low-literacy subjects; thus, the questions are somewhat simplistic and more age-appropriate for younger subjects.

  • For a more detail discussion: Gibbs, J. C., K. S. Basinger, and D. Fuller. 1992. Moral maturity: Measuring the development of sociomoral reflection. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Ethic of Care Interview (ECI) is a qualitative measure of subjects’ positionality on Gilligan’s developmental scheme and, as it involves a semi-structured interview, is a production-style instrument. First, subjects are asked to describe a real-life dilemma and their response to this dilemma. Then, subjects are asked to respond to three hypothetical dilemmas 77dealing with unplanned pregnancy, marital fidelity, and care for a parent. Each of these dilemmas involves interpersonal conflicts that present issues related to balancing concerns of self and others. Probing questions are asked by the interviewer and address the participant’s descriptions of and actions in the situation, as well as perceptions of whether the actions were the right ones. Responses are scored for their correspondence with Gilligan’s levels and transitions.

  • For a more detailed discussion: Skoe, E. E., and J. E. Marcia. 1991. A measure of care-based morality and its relation to ego identity. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 37:289-304.

Measure of Moral Orientation (MMO) is a paper and-pencil instrument developed to measure strength of care and justice orientation. Specifically intended for college students, the MMO is comprised of eight moral dilemmas as well as a fourteen-item self-description measurement, and utilizes a four-point Likert scale to indicate agreement with item statements. Thus, the MMO is a quantitative and recognition-style instrument. First, students are asked to imagine themselves as the protagonist of the moral dilemmas (which are situations common to college students, such as roommate conflicts) and then respond to items that reflect either a justice or care orientation. Next, the self-description measure assesses students’ perceptions of themselves as caring or just through items addressing decision making, ideal self, and so forth. Scoring of the instrument involves totaling the values for care and justice items for four scales: care; justice; self-description of care; and self-description of justice. The higher the score on the individual scale, the greater the participant’s orientation toward the construct of that scale.

  • For a more detailed discussion: Liddell, D. L., and T. Davis. 1996. The measure of moral orientation: Reliability and validity evidence. Journal of College Student Development 37:485-93.

Measure of Intellectual Development (MID) is an essay-based test designed to assess college students’ positionality on the Perry scheme. As a qualitative and production-style instrument, the MID consists of four questions to which students respond in essay format. By utilizing these four short essays, the MID easily facilitates administration in a classroom setting. Students are asked to write an essay for each of the following: the best course they have taken; their perception of the ideal learning experience for them; their learning in the particular course or program in which they are taking the MID; and their approaches to career planning and vocational decision making. Evaluation of the essays involves independent rating by two trained raters. Scoring is provided in terms of a three-digit stage description—from Perry scheme positions one (basic dualism) through five (contextual relativism)—that shows dominant positions as well as transition between stages. For example, a student who has a dominant standpoint in Early Multiplicity (Position 3) but appears to be transitioning to Late Multiplicity (Position 4) would be scored as 334. Similarly, a student who has a dominant standpoint of Contextual Relativism (Position 5) but still evidences late multiplistic thinking would be scored as 455. Mentkowski, Moeser, and Strait (1983) provide a comprehensive guide to the extensive rating system used at Alverno College for the MID.

  • For a more detailed discussion: Mentkowski, M., M. Moeser, and M. J. Strait. 1983. Using the Perry scheme of intellectual and ethical development as a college outcomes measure: A process and criteria for judging student performance. 2 vols. Milwaukee, WI: Alverno College Productions.

Learning Environment Preferences (LEP) is a quantitative, recognition-style instrument designed for use with undergraduates that assesses positionality on the Perry scheme. The LEP is divided into the following five domains or aspects of the subject’s “ideal learning environment”: course content; instructor’s role; student’s role; classroom atmosphere and activities; and evaluation procedures. For each domain, the LEP asks students to conceptualize their ideal learning environment and rank thirteen possible responses indicating their preferences for that domain. These responses are typical of Perry positions (similar to the DIT’s stage prototypic statements) and are derived from the MID. The ranking process consists of two parts: first, students utilize a four-item Likert scale to indicate the significance of each response in their ideal learning environment; and second, students rank—for each domain—the three most important items. A scoring index yields scores between 200 and 500, which correlate with Perry positions 2 through 5. Additionally, similar to the DIT’s “P” index, the LEP’s “R” index indicates the percentage of the student’s thinking that is characterized by Position 5 (Contextual Relativism) on the Perry scheme.

  • For a more detailed discussion: Moore, W. S. 1989. The Learning Environment Preferences: Exploring the construct validity of an objective measure of the Perry scheme of intellectual development. Journal of College Student Development 30:504-14.

Reflective Judgment Interview (RJI) consists of five questions regarding ill-structured problems that are presented from two contradicting points of view on the following questions: how the Egyptian pyramids were constructed; whether objectivity is possible in news reporting; how humans came into existence; whether chemical additives are beneficial for the food supply; and whether nuclear energy is inherently valuable or dangerous. In addition, several discipline-based problems for psychology, business and chemistry were developed. For each question, subjects are asked to state and justify their opinion on the issue and then respond to six follow-up questions (exploring further descriptions of the subject’s point of view, how the subject arrived at that view, and the subject’s assessment of the correctness of this view). During King and Kitchener’s research, two certified raters scored subjects’ responses and summarized the ratings into a three-digit score representing stages on the Reflective Judgment Model. The authors explain that the RJI uses problems for which the moral dimension is not central (as opposed to the Heinz dilemma); however, the RJI does provide information on how students think and arrive at judgments about ill-structured, complex issues.

  • For a more detailed discussion: King, P. M., and K. Kitchener. 1994. Developing reflective judgment: Understanding and promoting intellectual growth and critical thinking in adolescents and adults. San Francisco:Jossey-Bass.

Sentence Completion Test (SCT) Loevinger and Wessler’s SCT is a qualitative, production type instrument that assesses positionality on Loevinger’s model of ego development. The most current and common versions, Form 81 for Women and Form 81 for Men, are each comprised of 36 sentence stems. Sentence stems are comprised of the beginning word or few words of a sentence for which the subject is essentially asked to fill in the blank. Examples of stems on the current SCT include: “Education . . .”; “I feel sorry . . .”; “Rules are . . .”; “Crime and delinquency could be halted . . .”; “My main problem is . . .”; and “My conscience bothers me. . . .” Hy and Loevinger (1996) claim that though the test forms for women and men differ slightly (for example, by a changed pronoun), the rater manual is “unisex” (26) as while men and women may respond differently to items, it has not been proven that a given response should receive a different score because of gender. Trained raters score the instrument and use “ogive” rules to derive total protocol ratings (TPR) on Loevinger’s model. While the SCT does appear to address dimensions that are pertinent to personal and social responsibility, it is not widely used in research assessing moral development or involving college student development. A notable exception is Alverno College, which uses the SCT as part of its comprehensive, longitudinal assessment of undergraduates and alumnae. However, Reisetter Hart and Mentkowski (1994) report that their findings at Alverno confirm other studies observing stability during college on Loevinger’s model at the Self-Aware level (though progression to the Conscientious level was observed for alumnae). Reisetter Hart and Mentkowski call this “curious” (3) as Loevinger’s comprehensive model purports to take into account changes in moral reasoning (e.g., Kolhberg’s model), which indeed does appear to change significantly in college. Reisetter Hart and Mentkowski recommend further research into contextual and environmental elements to better understand ego development during college; however, by itself, the SCT does not appear to provide significant insight into change in ego development during the college years.For more detailed discussions:

  • Hy, L. X., and J. Loevinger. 1996. Measuring ego development. 2nd ed.Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
  • Reisetter Hart, J., and M. Mentkowski. 1994. The development of the whole person: Women’s ego development from entrance to five years after college. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans.

Student Developmental Task and Lifestyle Assessment (SDTLA) was developed and revised numerous times at the University of Georgia for use in counseling with students. The paper-and-pencil, quantitative instrument is based on Chickering’s theory of development, but does not exactly correspond to the theory’s vectors and also includes additional developmental tasks identified through research with the instrument. Various forms of the SDTLA are available, but the most comprehensive version is comprised of 153 items and assesses the developmental tasks of Establishing and Clarifying Purpose (with four subtasks of Educational Involvement, Career Planning, Lifestyle Planning, and Cultural Participation), Developing Mature Interpersonal Relationships (with two subtasks of Peer Relationships and Tolerance), and Developing Autonomy (with four subtasks of Emotional Autonomy, Academic Autonomy, Instrumental Autonomy, and Interdependence). In addition, the SDTLA includes two scales, the Salubrious Lifestyle Scale (assessing health and wellness practices) and the Two concerns with utilizing the SDTLA in assessing personal and social responsibility at the college level have been put forward: it is limited to the developmental tasks typical of seventeen- to twenty-four-year-olds (thus it is not suitable for nontraditional students) and it lacks assessment along Chickering’s vector of Developing Integrity, which is the vector most directly associated with moral development theory and research. However, some aspects of the instrument—such as measurements of the developmental tasks of Tolerance and Interdependence, and the Salubrious Lifestyle Scale (which can potentially reveal behavioral patterns)—may have some import for research on personal and social responsibility in college.

  • For a detailed discussion of the version immediately preceding the SDTLA—the Student Developmental Task and Lifestyle Inventory, or SDTLI: Winston, R. B., Jr., T. K. Miller, and J. S. Prince. 1987. Student developmental task and lifestyle inventory. Athens, GA: Student Development Associates.

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