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KU part of grant project to develop new tools, methods to measure science learning for students with disabilities

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas is part of a grant project to build innovative new models for teaching science and delivering new assessments that incorporate learning goals of new science standards. The project will be designed specifically for students with significant cognitive disabilities as well as students with or without disabilities who are not yet meeting grade-level standards. The project will also generate data for teachers about students’ progress.

The four-year, $3.8 million grant from the Department of Education Office of Elementary and Secondary Education will fund the development of the Innovations in Science Map, Assessment and Reporting Technologies, or I-SMART. The Maryland State Department of Education will lead the project in collaboration with state departments of education in Missouri, New Jersey, New York and Oklahoma. Researchers at the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation, part of KU’s Achievement and Assessment Institute, will lead the research arm of the project. CAST, a nonprofit organization dedicated to universal design and online learning, will partner on the project as well.

The project is designed to support students and teachers in order to ensure that students can meet new, more rigorous standards in science.

“The new science standards set high expectations for students. The I-SMART project will develop systems to support teaching and learning for students who struggle to meet those expectations,” said Meagan Karvonen, I‑SMART principal investigator and associate director of the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation.

To support teaching and learning, I-SMART will develop a learning map model that shows how students develop knowledge, skills and understanding in science. The map will reflect advancements that have been made in the Dynamic Learning Maps Alternate Assessment System, which provides educators data on student progress as they work toward educational goals in English language arts, mathematics and science.

“We have comprehensive maps in place for English language arts and math. The aim of this project is to build out the map for science, focusing on interdisciplinary connections to pre-academic skills, ELA and math,” said Gail Tiemann, co-PI and research project manager at the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation. “These maps show the multiple pathways by which students learn academics. They can guide teachers during instruction and are also the basis of assessments that can be used to check students’ learning after instruction.”

The second phase of the project, following the development of the learning map model, will develop testlets, or brief, interactive, online assessments to measure what students know in accordance with new science content standards. As the testlets are developed, they will be included in pilot studies in the five partner states with students in grades three to five, six to eight and in high school. They will then be further refined based on the results of the pilot tests.

“We’ll be learning how those testlets work and how they can be used in future assessments to measure students’ progress,” Tiemann said.

In the third phase of the project, developers will create a dashboard, or online tool, that delivers results from the testlets to teachers and school officials in innovative ways. The dashboard will present data from the testlets revealing what students know and how that knowledge relates to the science standards, giving teachers and parents context about students’ strengths, where they may need help and what steps could be taken to help students reach educational goals.

Teachers, parents and school officials in partner states will use and review the dashboard prototypes to help guide the development of the final version of the tool that will be made available for educators. Researchers and grant partners will report on the dashboard’s progress to state departments of education and national education advisers. Assessment reporting is an area underrepresented in educational research, project leaders said.

The I-SMART project will help determine which types of testing methods and technologies are effective for students with disabilities, as well as provide a map to inform teachers and parents of where students are in relation to the goals of next generation science standards and provide data on how best to help them reach those goals. Lessons learned through the project will be shared broadly with different audiences, including state departments of education, education researchers, assessment developers and policy makers. Project findings may have implications for other states that have adopted similar science standards, including member states of the Dynamic Learning Maps science consortium.