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Release: March 27, 2002

UI's Qualls is featured in PBS documentary on school testing March 28

Audrey Qualls, an associate professor in the University of Iowa College of Education's Iowa Testing Programs department, will be featured in a documentary "Testing Our Schools," scheduled to air 9 p.m. local time Thursday, March 28 on PBS's FRONTLINE.

In the program, co-produced by FRONTLINE and PBS's The Merrow Report, correspondent John Merrow will examine how the quest for higher scores on mandated school tests is changing teaching and learning in America.

"The passage of President Bush's sweeping education reform bill -- which requires public school testing in grades three through eight -- signals the beginning of a new era in public education, one marked by increased federal involvement in schools and an unprecedented expansion in the role of tests," the producers say in their publicity for the documentary. "A business school graduate and self-styled 'CEO President,' Bush envisions a business model where educators set objectives, measure performance, and hold students and teachers accountable for results. But will the business model work in education?"

Qualls, a coauthor of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and a specialist in large-scale assessment, says producer John D. Tulenko interviewed her for four hours last spring on the UI campus, asking a range of questions about educational testing. An Iowa graduate and a faculty member at Iowa since 1990, Qualls said she hasn't seen the documentary yet and doesn't know what portions of the interview were used.

But a FRONTLINE new release ( gives a preview of Qualls' interview in which she responds to a Bush administration proposal that every student in grades three through eight be tested in reading and math, with tests and passing grades to be decided by each state. The release says the prospect of still more testing disturbs Qualls.

"It's an impossible task," Qualls is quoted as saying. "Bush's plan actually allows the district or state to choose or design any assessment of their choice. We do not have the capability [to produce] reliable, good reports in a timely manner. The resources aren't there. To someone committed to testing, it's a terrifying idea."

Shot on location in California, Massachusetts, Virginia, Arizona and Washington, D.C., as well as Iowa, the documentary features some of the country's top experts in education and educational testing, including current U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige.

Tulenko said he decided to interview Qualls after coming across some of her research a couple years ago while planning the documentary.

"Audrey was one of the first test writers to take a public stance urging a little caution here with this fixation on testing, and at the same time she's an extremely well-respected psychomatrician and was able to put all this into real English for us," Tulenko said. "It was for all those reasons we came out to the University of Iowa."

The University of Iowa has long been synonymous with standardized testing. The Iowa Testing Programs, started in 1928 by E.F. Lindquist, is the developer of the widely used Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and the Iowa Test of Educational Development. So well known are the tests and the program that educators often simply refer to "the Iowa tests" when discussing educational measurement. UI testing faculty also have revised the General Educational Development (GED) test, an examination given throughout the United States to measure the educational achievement of students who do not have a high school diploma.

More information about the documentary is available online at

Founded in 1872, the University of Iowa College of Education was the nation's first permanent college-level department of education. Since then the College has gained an international reputation of excellence in fields as diverse as rehabilitation counseling, testing and measurement, and language and literacy. It is home to the Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, and to such top-ranked programs as Rehabilitation Counseling, Counseling Psychology, Educational Psychology, Elementary Teacher Education, Secondary Teacher Education, and English Education and Literacy.