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After the Party: AERA & NCME 2012 Reflection
Every year, thousands of educators and researchers across the country and around the world go to AERA (American Educational Research Association) and NCME (National Council on Measurement in Education), two highly recognized educational research conferences. Both are held at the same time and in the same location and while NCME focuses on assessment, AERA includes every topic related to education that constitutes 12 divisions and over 160 Special Interest Groups.
This year these conferences were held in Vancouver, British Columbia.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the hundreds of sessions offered. Having given up the desire to follow everything a long time ago, I usually hang around at three places: NCME, AERA Division D (Measurement and Research Methodology), and Division H (Research, Evaluation, and Assessment in Schools). The plenary NCME session “How can the testing community help advance education policy and practice”, given by John Q. Easton, the Director of the Institute of Education Sciences, was a good summary of this year’s conference:
1) “To know is not enough.”
“To know is not enough” is the theme of this year’s AERA conference. John Easton emphasized that in addition to many descriptive analyses to answer what may work in the educational field, the focus should be shifted to what works for whom, where, when, and why. Although it is difficult to draw causal conclusions in educational studies since we rarely randomly assign students to test a hypothesis in a true experimental setting, John encouraged all researchers to dig deeper to think about how our findings may have different implications for different circumstances in which administrators, teachers, or students can take actions. (*) So folks, don’t be so happy about finding out what works for everyone. A better question may be “Does it work for my students/school/district?”
2) Teacher evaluation
John Easton called for researchers and psychometricians to step up to help people in the field to conduct teacher evaluation since “no matter whether we like it or not”, more and more people are doing it. Related to this, a group of studies were presented at AERA, including my own presentation at Division D, with regard to how different assessments produce different teacher/school evaluation results. (**)
3) Non-cognitive skill assessment
Assessing non-cognitive skills, such as motivation and perseverance, was another major topic in this speech. This interest was reflected in a couple of NCME sessions, where people started to explore how to assess these skills.
A side note is that I did not see many sessions around the topic of computer adaptive assessment, which made me feel like there was definitely some room for us (NWEA researchers) to fill. Another note is that if anybody is interested in getting to know the research work done for school districts, AERA Division H, the club of school leaders and practitioners, is where you can go.
Yun Xiang is a Research Specialist for NWEA.
(*)One noticeable thread in AERA Division D is the effort to create a quasi experimental research design, for example, matching students using propensity score in multilevel models.
(**)A study conducted by Michigan State University concluded that what assessment is used has a larger impact on teacher/school evaluation results than what growth measure/model is adopted.