Anne Anastasi; Author Spoke of Cultural, Racial Fairness in Testing


Anne Anastasi, who influenced generations of psychologists through a classic 1954 text on measuring differences in intelligence, achievement and personality, died May 4 in New York City. She was 92.

A longtime professor at New York’s Fordham University, Anastasi was sometimes called the “test guru” in professional circles. Her book, “Psychological Testing,” is still in print after 47 years and remains standard reading for college freshmen and graduate students in the field.

She was the third woman to serve as president of the American Psychological Assn. when she was elected to a one-year term in 1971. In 1987, she received from President Reagan a National Medal of Science for playing a major role in the development of differential psychology as a behavioral science. That year, the honor also went to B.F. Skinner, the noted behavioral psychologist, and Dr. Michael DeBakey, the pioneering heart surgeon.


“She was an enormously central figure in the whole area of the measurement of human abilities,” said Eva Baker, director of the UCLA Center for the Study of Evaluation. “Her contribution is all the more astounding given that she was working in a field that is quantitatively oriented and not well-populated by women.”

Her success was owed, in part, to her ability to write lucidly about complex topics. Colleagues said her forthright approach to sensitive issues also contributed to her authority in the testing world.

She was one of the first experts in her field to draw attention to cultural fairness in testing. In a 1937 text, “Differential Psychology: Individual and Group Differences in Behavior,” she presented “some of the early conceptualizations of how to think about cultural bias,” said Robert Linn, a nationally known University of Colorado testing expert.

In the 1970s, the notion that a culture-free test of intelligence, aptitude or achievement could be devised gained popularity, but Anastasi argued that such measurements could not avoid gender or ethnic and racial bias.

“She would come in very early in the conversation. She was not one to wait for the conversation to happen,” said professor Mary Procidano, who was a student of Anastasi in the 1970s and now chairs Fordham’s psychology department. “People ultimately said she was right, that there was no such thing as a culture-free test. She said the question was, if [intelligence] is 50% inheritance and 50% experience, what do we do about it, what do educators do about it?”

Born in New York City, Anastasi was educated at home by her grandmother until she was 9. After her father died when she was 1, she was supported by her mother, who was office manager for the Italian newspaper Il Progresso.

An avid learner, Anastasi was particularly drawn to mathematics and taught herself spherical trigonometry when she was a teenager. Her precocity led her to study for two years at Rhodes Preparatory School, a New York school that mainly served adults interested in pursuing college degrees. At 15, she entered Barnard College, where she majored in psychology and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1928.

In 1930, Anastasi earned a doctorate from Columbia University, where she met her future husband, industrial psychologist John Porter Foley Jr.

She held teaching positions at Barnard and Queens College, where she also chaired the psychology department, before joining the faculty of Fordham as an assistant professor in 1947. She became a full professor in 1951.

Three years later, her opus, “Psychological Testing,” was published. The book offers an encyclopedic introduction to psychological assessment that familiarizes students with the fundamentals of test design, selection and interpretation.

Anastasi, who became an emeritus professor at Fordham after her retirement in 1979, worked on updates of the tome well into her 80s. The seventh edition was published in 1996.

“It is simply the best and most readable text of its kind,” said Neal Schmitt, a Michigan State University professor and authority on testing for the American Psychological Assn., who has used several editions of the book to teach undergraduates.