The Educational Testing Landscape
As I view the current landscape in educational measurement, I see a great need for NCME to accomplish its service missions of disseminating knowledge about best practices in educational assessment, and informing public policy on how educational assessments can be used to improve education. At the same time, I see educational testing being increasingly criticized. We are at a crossroads where we can either become smaller, more insular, and technocratic; or we can expand our organization by better engaging in the public and political discourse on the role of educational tests in education.
I believe the educational assessment field was at its height of popularity and trust during the first few years of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era. NCLB was one of the few bipartisan laws passed at that time (votes were 87-10 in the Senate, and 381-41 in the House!), and promised to provide information that policy makers, administrators, and teachers could use to close achievement gaps and improve student learning. And for a while, that is where the conversation stayed. Test data were used to talk about improving learning for students of various subgroups, including historically marginalized populations such as African Americans, English learners, and students with disabilities. However, once the tests began to be used to evaluate teachers, we lost the support of the teachers, and “accountability” is now being asked of us. How can we defend the current uses of educational tests? Should we defend them? Where is the voice of NCME in these debates?
Before I describe my initiatives to address these questions, I need to point out the other wave of criticism of educational tests. When I teach the history of educational testing (focusing on validity theory, of course!), I briefly mention civil servant testing during the Chen dynasty in China, and then quickly move to Binet’s testing of schoolchildren in Paris, to ensure no child who could learn in a public school environment would be denied an education. What a noble beginning to our profession! However, I have only recently learned that tests have also been used as tools to oppress specific groups of people. One example is the “literacy tests” that were used to prevent African Americans from voting in the United States. Add to this the use of intelligence tests in the Eugenics movement and you can see why many people do not trust educational tests, or the people who are involved in testing. This distrust is clearly evident in the 2019 AERA Presidential Address by Amy Stuart Wells entitled, “An Inconvenient Truth About the New Jim Crow of Education.” Essentially, Professor Wells argued educational tests represent the new “Jim Crow” approach to segregating people of color from an adequate education. In it, she makes several good points about negative consequences associated with educational tests.
Thus, the current landscape is that as the use of educational tests increases, the support of these tests in the general public, and within academic circles, is eroding. The unprecedented opt-out movement is an example of the former; Professor Wells’ Presidential address is an example of the latter. I believe we need to fully engage in the public and academic debates on the benefits and harms of educational testing. The NCME 2020 Annual Conference in San Francisco, will be one forum for engaging in those dialogues. The Presidential initiatives I recently introduced also address these issues and aim toward growing our organization in both number and influence.
My Presidential Initiatives
At the NCME Breakfast Meeting in Toronto, I outlined my Presidential Initiatives, which have since gained the support of the NCME Board. These initiatives are:
- Put the “E” back in NCME
- 25 by 25
Putting the “E” back in NCME
Putting the “E” back in NCME means bringing our organization closer to those involved in the educational process. Education policy makers, state and local department of education staff, superintendents, principals, and teachers are all involved in educational testing. It is time for us to get involved with them. NCME has made significant inroads into these communities in the past, such as our leadership role in developing the “ABCs of School Testing,” and the “Standards for Teacher Competence in Educational Assessment of Students.” It is time for us to reengage with these communities. What other partnerships and products can we produce? The NCME Outreach and Partnership Committee, chaired by Tracey Hembry; the NCME Diversity Issues Committee, chaired by Leanne Ketterlin Geller, and the incredible ITEMS Portal spearheaded by Andre Rupp, are three examples of how we are beginning to become more involved in the educational community. I am hoping you can help with the initiatives we start, and with getting the word out about the educational assessment resources available through the NCME ITEMS portal (just google it!).
Along these lines, Board member Andrew Ho, Vice-President Ye Tong, and I recently attended the National Conference on Student Assessment hosted by the Council of Chief State School Officers and participated in a session on “How Can NCME Better Serve State Assessment Professionals?” The Commissioner of Education in Tennessee, Penny Schwinn, and Scott Norton, Executive Director of Programs for CCSSO, also participated in the session. About 45 people attended, and it was clear CCSSO and state assessment personnel are ready to engage with NCME. In fact, an idea was raised for an NCME/CCSSO task force to address issues such as how much time should be devoted to testing in the public schools and how to provide resources to state and local assessment professionals. Other ideas included externships for graduate students at departments of education, and getting NCME members to provide professional development on assessment for teachers and department of education staff. Following up on these initiatives is tantamount to putting the E back in NCME. Dare we take the next step of engaging with colleges of education and teacher unions? I suggest we do. Dr. Cindy Walker is leading efforts with NCME and AERA-D to improve assessment literacy (assessment expertise) to teachers in training in colleges of education. We must support these efforts.
25 by 25
25 by 25 is an initiative to grow our membership to 2,500 members by the year 2025. We are currently at about 1,800 members, due in part to the 180 new graduate students who took advantage of the initiative we introduced last year of free membership for graduate students, for their first year. We must keep these students, and continue to grow. As part of this initiative, and consistent with putting the “E” back in NCME, we recently announced NCME is extending free membership to all State Assessment Directors. These directors are our colleagues who are involved in all aspects of statewide testing, and are the “front line” in dealing with the public and policy members on educational testing issues in their state. We are pleased to welcome these colleagues to NCME! You can help with the 25 by 25 initiative by getting your colleagues to join NCME. We are the community of educational measurement professionals. Anyone working in educational testing should be a member. Getting to 2,500 members may seem aspirational, but there are far more professionals who would benefit from membership in NCME.
What are SIGIMIES? Special Interest Groups in Measurement in Education, of course. This is an experimental initiative to see if creating communities within NCME helps engage members and keep them involved in our organization. I have heard from too many members that NCME does not seem to be relevant to them anymore. SIGIMIES will change that. I am extremely grateful to Andrew Middlestead, State Assessment Director from Michigan, who has agreed to lead our first SIGIMIE—the Special Interest Group for State and Local Testing Directors, along with our colleagues Vince Verges (Florida) and Joyce Zurkowski (Colorado). Thanks Andy, Vince, and Joyce! Note that this SIGIMIE will also help us accomplish our goal of putting the “E” back in NCME. Other SIGIMIE ideas that have been proposed are in the areas of Artificial Intelligence/Computational Psychometrics, Teachers of Educational Measurement, Classroom Assessment, and Credentialing. Are you interested in proposing and leading a SIGIMIE? If so, please contact me at Sireci@acad.umass.edu.
Honoring our Past and Present
Up to this point, I have only described new initiatives. It is also important to keep NCME as the intellectual home and community it has always been for the scientific educational measurement research community. That is our strength, and we must build on that strength, not erode it, as we expand our community to include our colleagues working more directly in education. We have an incredibly strong Publications Committee spearheaded by Will Lorie and Susan Davis-Becker, and Sandip Sinharay and Deborah Harris who have taken on the mammoth task of editor for the Journal of Educational Measurement, and Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, respectively. These publications help keep our scientific reputation strong. Speaking of JEM and EM:IP, I hope you are sending your best research there. They continue to be outstanding and influential journals in education.
I must also thank Megan Welsh, editor of the NCME Newsletter, who is probably now wishing she gave me a word limit on this article. Megan is doing an incredible job with the Newsletter, which is becoming one of the most important outlets for news on educational measurement.
You, not me, and NCME
NCME is run by volunteers. I cannot believe how incredibly blessed I am to work with the current Board members—Debbie Durrence, Howard Everson, Andrew Ho, Rose McCallin, Michael Rodriguez, Ye Tong, Michael Walker, and Rebecca Zwick. Their dedication and insight are inspirational. And I cannot forget the approximately 18 committees that do most of the work for NCME. I will single out Rosemary Reshetar who chairs the Budget and Finance Committee, and attends all Board meetings. I must also give a shout out to the entire Classroom Assessment Task Force who has gone above and beyond in accomplishing their goals. I should continue the shout-outs of thanks because I realize there are so many of you chairing and working on committees to keep NCME strong and relevant. Thank you for your service to NCME! It is because of you that we are poised for success.
Speaking of service, a huge shout out of thanks to Thanos Patelis, Andrew Wiley, and Ada Woo, who are the 2020 Annual Meeting Conference Co-Chairs, and to Kim Colvin and Anita Rawls who are Co-Chairs for the 2020 Workshops. The call for proposals is now open (https://www.ncme.org/meetings/annualmeeting2020), and it is clear NCME2020 will be the best NCME annual meeting ever! More on that in my next Presidential column. Be sure to see the call in this issue of the Newsletter, too.
That is all for now from the Oval Office. I look forward to seeing you all in Boulder for the NCME Classroom Assessment Conference (https://www.ncme.org/events/event-description?CalendarEventKey=8bc0ef9b-ddee-4dfa-bcfa-2d80460adee5&Home=%2fmeetings%2fupcoming-events ), and in San Francisco for the historical NCME2020.
Your President, Stephen G. Sireci