In 1963, Campbell and Stanley (in their classic book, Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs for Research), discussed the retrospective pretest.  This is the method where by the participant’s attitude, knowledge, skills, behaviors, etc. existing prior to and after the program are assessed together AFTER the program. A novel approach to capturing what the participant knew, felt, did before they experienced the program.

Does it work?  Yes…and no (according to the folks in the know).

Campbell and Stanley mention the use of the retrospective pretest in measuring attitudes towards Blacks (they use the term Negro) of soldiers who are assigned to racially mixed vs. all white combat infantry units (1947) and to measure housing project occupants attitudes to being in integrated vs. segregated housing units when there was a housing shortage (1951).  Both tests showed no difference between the two groups in remembering prior attitudes towards the idea of interest.  Campbell and Stanley argue that having only posttest measures,  any difference found may have been attributable to selection bias.    They caution readers to “…be careful to note that the probable direction of memory bias is to distort the past…into agreement with (the) present…or has come to believe to be socially desirable…”

This brings up several biases that the Extension professional needs to be concerned with in planning and conducting an evaluation: selection bias, desired response bias, and response shift bias.  All of which can have serious implications for the evaluation.

Those are technical words for several limitations which can affect any evaluation.  Selection bias is the preference to put some participants into one group rather than the other.  Campbell and Stanley call this bias a threat to validity.  Desired response bias occurs when participants try to answer the way they think the evaluator wants them to answer.  Response shift bias happens when participants frame of reference or  understanding changes during the program, often due to misunderstanding  or preconceived ideas.

So these are the potential problems.  Are there any advantages/strengths to using the retrospective pretest?  There are at least two.  First, there is only one administration, at the end of the program.  This is advantageous when the program is short and when participants do not like to fill out forms (that is, minimizes paper burden).  And second, avoids the response-shift bias by not introducing information that may not be understood  prior to the program.

Theodore Lamb (2005) tested the two methods and concluded that the two approaches appeared similar and recommended the retrospective pretest if conducting a pretest/posttest is  difficult or impossible.  He cautions, however, that supplementing the data from the retrospective pretest with other data is necessary to demonstrate the effectiveness of the program.

There is a vast array of information about this evaluation method.  If you would like to know more, let me know.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments are closed.