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Release: Sept. 26, 2002

College Of Education Unveils New Testing/Measurement Center Plans

In a move certain to cement its reputation as one of the nation's leaders in testing and measurement in education and other areas of scientific inquiry, the University of Iowa College of Education this week announced plans to create a Center for Advanced Studies in Measurement and Assessment (CASMA).

College of Education Dean Sandra Bowman Damico has selected Robert Brennan, Ph.D., who currently heads the Iowa Testing Programs, to direct the new center, which will be housed in the Lindquist Center along with the Iowa Testing Programs and the Center for Evaluation and Assessment.

"I felt that the addition of CASMA would augment these other two units and solidify the college's reputation as the place where cutting edge work was being done on many of the issues receiving national attention, Damico said.

Brennan, who will relinquish his role as director of Iowa Testing Programs, said, "Although the center will start small, it is my goal that in time it will become widely recognized as a premier interdisciplinary center for research on measurement issues."

CASMA's initial activity will be organizing a national conference for fall 2003 on validity in testing from multiple perspectives.

Testing has become an explosive educational -- and political -- issue in recent years as states struggle to find the right tools for assessing students' knowledge and skills, and as proposals are made to use test scores as the basis for determining everything from school funding to teacher pay. The testing issue took on particular urgency with the launching of President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" initiative, which, among other things, calls for greater testing accountability by schools.

CASMA springs from a proposal outlined last year by former UI President Mary Sue Coleman in a memo to UI Provost Jon Whitmore and David Skorton, vice president for research and external relations. Coleman called for the development "of a model to use the UI educational testing expertise to advance the effective use of testing nationally, and as a model to grow the educational testing activities of the UI."

Based on Coleman's initiatives, a committee of top faculty in the College of Education proposed the creation of the center, with the plan that its activities be research-based, have both national and international focuses and be applicable to various educational levels.

The committee said that it would likely take five to 10 years for the center to reach fruition. Among the activities in the educational arena that CASMA might consider undertaking are:

-- Develop computer-based or web-based testing for "low stakes" diagnostic testing, for "niche" testing aimed at particular subgroups of students with special needs, or for very specific types of tests that cannot be delivered via a paper-and-pencil format.

-- Conduct research on new uses of computer-generated score reports that have interactive features.

-- Undertake collaborative, interdisciplinary activities in the assessment of higher education from the perspective of various social-science disciplines.

-- Give special attention to foreign-language and second-language testing in the United States and the rest of the world.

-- Develop an educational measurement and assessment training program for foreign administrators and professionals who do not have the time or opportunity to pursue a degree in measurement.

-- Provide an environment for established measurement professionals to take sabbaticals during which they could contribute some of their expertise to the center's work.

-- Convene, with possible collaboration by other institutions or companies, a regularly scheduled invitational conference on a specific measurement topic.

The University of Iowa has long been synonymous with educational 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. There are other important testing activities, as well, in the College of Education, and just about every major testing company is populated by graduates from the College of Education.

In 1992, the University of Iowa created the Center for Evaluation and Assessment to conduct higher education assessments and evaluations of human services and educational programs. Now a unit in the College of Education, the CEA undertakes program evaluations in schools and other community settings and is funded entirely by grants and contracts. Director Donald Yarbrough says that some of the CEA's most recent projects include assessment training for Iowa teachers and administrators, national field trials of the Student Evaluation Standards, research on how to evaluate standards, and program evaluations for the Washington Community School District and the University of Iowa College of Engineering and department of internal medicine.

Brennan said that the three testing and evaluation units will work in concert with one another, complementing one another's areas of research and service.

"The mission of the new center is not to duplicate ongoing activities in the college and university, but rather to expand upon them with innovative, interdisciplinary, and research-based initiatives in measurement," Brennan said.