David McKinney/University Relations

Neal Kingston, director of the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation, will oversee a $22 million grant to approve assessment methods for special education students.

Improving assessment

Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation land KU's largest ever grant to improve special ed

Researchers at KU have received a $22 million grant to develop a new assessment system for special education students in 11 states.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Education will support development of the Dynamic Learning Maps Alternate Assessment System, led by Neal Kingston, director of KU’s Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation. It is the largest grant in KU history.

“It’s long been realized that when accountability is based on test scores, teachers will teach to the test,” said Kingston. “The new system will turn around that process and design tests to model good instruction — to be driven by and be part of instruction instead of a standalone activity.”

The new system will rely on assessment that is built into the learning process, rather than on an annual exam. Teachers can determine throughout the year how each student is learning by using a “learning map,” which details relationships among thousands of skills students develop throughout their education.

“When you have really good diagnostic information that supports the educational process, you can address needs and remediate immediately,” Kingston said.

State departments of education in Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin plan to use the program beginning in the 2014-15 school year.

“The Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation has been a leader in the development of assessments for K-12 students for nearly 30 years,” said Rick Ginsberg, dean of KU’s School of Education. “This new grant is yet another example of CETE’s leadership nationally in developing assessments to assist educators with innovative approaches for supporting teachers in working with all students regardless of their academic abilities.”

Kingston said the new assessment model eventually could be used for all students.

“With this grant, the University of Kansas has an opportunity to improve the quality of education received by countless children,” said Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little. “By shaping the future of educational accountability, Neal Kingston and his team will help teachers better connect with students.”

In addition to the 11 participating states and the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation, the Dynamic Learning Maps consortium includes faculty from several other departments and research centers within KU, including the Beach Center on Disability, Center for Research on Learning, Center for Research Methods and Data Analysis and Department of Special Education. Key external partners include AbleLink Technologies, the Arc, the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Edvantia.


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