Spotlight on the people who make our organization great : Joseph Rios

By Megan Welsh posted 04-10-2020 13:53


JRios.jpgJoseph Rios, University of Minnesota

How did you get into the field?

As a master’s student at the University of California, Riverside, I was fortunate to work on an IES project that looked to identify reading disabilities in English learners. My duties on the project were to administer a battery of measures in both English and Spanish to students. As part of the analysis, the PI on the project treated the language versions as equivalent; however, from my understanding of the two languages, there appeared to be distinct differences. As a result, I became interested in the test translation/adaptation literature, and began reading work by individuals such as Ron Hambleton and Steve Sireci. This prompted me to apply to the measurement program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and I was lucky enough that they accepted me into the program.


If you weren’t in this field, what would you do? 

I believe that I would pursue an academic career in social psychology. Prior to studying quantitative methodology, I was very interested in topics related to social identity as well as prejudice and discrimination. Actually while at the University of California, Riverside and taking a course in the social psychology program, one of the professors asked me to switch from my studies in quantitative methodology to the social psych program. Thankfully, I chose to continue studying quantitative methods.


What advice would you have for graduate students who want to get into this field? 

Focus on skill development as opposed to content knowledge. A good way of framing this approach is to ask oneself, “Upon graduating, what are the skills necessary to demonstrate proficiency in my desired position?” Many students may not know that for many positions in our field, skills such as oral communication, written communication, leadership, collaboration, and problem solving are all necessary for success. Clearly, these skills go beyond content knowledge and are often not taught formally in graduate programs. Therefore, I would recommend that students seek opportunities to expand these skills and take ownership of their growth in these areas. In addition, I would say that early on students should think critically about the problems that they would like to address related to improving the practice of educational measurement. Often times, students are told to become experts in a specialized niche. I think that this approach has a number of limitations. For one, it may lead to their thinking becoming very siloed at an early stage. Second, it is impossible to determine whether a topic that is trendy at the moment will have lasting power over time. In my relatively little time in the field, I have seen some trends come and go. Instead, I would encourage students to develop broad research interests that are motivated by fields outside of educational measurement. By doing so, it may allow them to see connections in prior or current thinking that can be applied to novel issues that arise in educational measurement. To broaden their interests, I would encourage students to seek out as many opportunities in getting research experience in labs outside of their main area of study. Learn how other fields generate research questions and the methodologies that they employ. Identifying novel solutions may require us to go beyond simulation research and secondary data analyses. My hope is that in taking these recommendations, future generations will see the educational measurement field as its own substantive area of research that should be highly interdisciplinary.


What do you like to do for fun outside of work?  

To begin with, I would say that it has been very important for my productivity to practice healthy habits outside of work. Therefore, I enjoy exercising daily; I find that it is a great way to de-stress and find solitude in my day. In addition, I try to read one book per week outside of measurement. This has been a great practice for increasing my personal development in learning and I suspect that it has also assisted with improving my writing. In addition, I enjoy cooking with my partner. We are actually in the process of starting a vegan food blog called “Not Your Typical Vegans.” This has been a great creative outlet outside of my role as an academic.


What would you say has been one of the biggest innovations in educational measurement in the last decade or two?

I think there have been a number of technical advancements in model development and estimation over the last few decades. However, I think that a more important question is, what are the biggest research areas that need to be addressed in our field? To that question, I would like to see NCME develop advisory panels comprised of a diverse set of researchers that could provide some guidelines on developing national research agendas in areas such as large-scale accountability, classroom, alternative, and individual testing contexts. This would allow us as a field to better organize our financial and intellectual resources and move the field forward in a unified manner. In addition, I would like to see the measurement field think more critically about the methods we are employing to answer our research questions. To begin with, we have seen an overreliance on simulation-based and large-scale secondary analyses. As such, there is a clear need for more human-subjects experimental research that employs randomized controlled trials. This would allow us to better generalize our research findings in the hope of moving the field towards evidence-based reform. In addition, I would like to see our field embrace the “open science” movement by preregistering our research protocols, making our data and analytic code available, and providing preprints of our work to everyone that may not have access to our journals. This shift may encourage openness, integrity, and reproducibility of research in the measurement field.


When you go to conferences, how do you pick what sessions to attend? 

When attending conferences, such as NCME, I look to see if there are sessions on topics related to my research areas, which are test-taking motivation, diversity issues in testing, and feedback. However, in saying that, it is often difficult to understand the complexities of one’s research from a 12-minute presentation. Therefore, I generally prefer to email authors that are conducting research of interest to me for their papers either before or after the conference. I would say that my main goal in attending conferences is to have meetings with current collaborators or individuals that I would like to collaborate with in the future. This has been a fruitful approach to increasing my research productivity and establishing relationships with other professionals in the field.   


Who has been a significant influence in your professional life?

I have been greatly influenced by many of my early interactions as a student at the University of Massachusetts.

Being a student of Ron Hambleton, I learned from his strong work ethic and his graciousness to help anyone who asked. He inspired me to want to pursue an academic career because of the influence that he had on the hundreds of students he helped to educate over the years; many of whom have taken leadership roles in universities and industry. Regardless of how busy he was, he always made time to meet with students and provide sage advice. As an example, on many Sunday mornings when Ron and I would be the only ones in the office, he would often tell me that being a professor is the greatest job that one could hope to obtain. I can now see that he was right.

Steve Sireci, who was my doctoral advisor, taught me a lot about leadership and his dedication to helping graduate students. As can be seen during his time as the NCME president, he has really supported graduate student development and offered excellent direction during these uncertain times.

From Craig Wells, I learned the importance of having a life outside of my work. This was truly one of the greatest lessons that was given to me, and one that I hold dearly today.

Jennifer Randall has inspired me to bring a voice to the many communities in our country that are impacted by educational measurement, but have very little representation in our field. Her determination to bring light to this issue has been truly humbling. As an example, she has organized: (a) symposia at the NCME conference around diversity issues in assessment, (b) a social gathering for NCME members that come from underrepresented backgrounds, and (c) along with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, has created a year long fellowship that awards underrepresented students stipends to attend the annual conference virtually free of charge as well as to gain mentorship from individuals with similar backgrounds that are currently in the field. I’m excited to see what she does in the future. 

Finally, my colleague at the University of Minnesota, Michael Rodriguez, who I am indebted to for being an important advocate in my hiring, has influenced me in two ways. First, he may not know this, but as a graduate student, Michael was inspirational because he was one of the only American-born Latino professors in our field. Knowing that someone that looks like me was able to accomplish my goal of becoming an academic gave me the strength to continue to pursue my goal. Second, Michael has been a role model in his efforts to improve educational measurement practice, particularly in our local communities. He is someone that does not live in an ivory tower, but instead lives the mission of our land-grant university by serving the people of Minnesota. As an example, I remember last year when he took time out of his schedule to drive across the state in the winter to provide professional development around assessment literacy to educators.

There have been countless individuals that I have come across in my brief time in the field that have had a tremendous influence on me. We are truly lucky to have so many amazing individuals in educational measurement.