When Politics Trumps Science: Generalizations from a Career of Research on Assessment, Decision Making, and Public Policy

Article excerpt

NASP LEGENDS OF SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGY ADDRESS

I sincerely appreciate the recognition of NASP and my colleagues on being permitted to give the 2009 Legends in School Psychology address. I start by acknowledging that my accomplishments are really the accomplishments of many. Throughout my career I have had the opportunity to work with highly talented colleagues and graduate students. They have supported and enriched the work. My mentors, T. Ernest Newland and John Salvia, deserve special recognition, as do my colleagues Sandra Christenson, Martha Thurlow, and Bob Algozzine. Many of my ideas came from them, though I stand solely responsible for the content of this paper.

In this paper, I will provide an overview of the focus of my research and professional activity, talk about the context for the work, provide a set of generalizations based on research findings and experiences, and talk briefly about my view of the future of assessment, decision making, and public policy influenced by and resulting from it.

THE FOCUS OF THE RESEARCH

The focus of my research has been on at-risk students, struggling students, and students who are failing. The work has been driven by two fundamental purposes: enhancing the competence of individual students, and building the capacity of systems (schools, churches, community agencies, families,andprofessionals) to meet student's needs. The work is designed to take students where we find them (no matter what their current level of functioning) and take action to enhance their academic and social competence. Within this view, we strive to make everyone better and to move them toward the goals or outcomes we, they, professionals, or society in the broadest sense hold for them. Examples of the kinds of research questions that have driven my work and that of my colleagues include:

* How can we assess students' skills in a technically adequate way?

* What treatments, interventions, or instructional approaches work best to enhance the competence of "at-risk" and struggling students?

* How can we intervene to change the system so that those we serve and others like them improve? (What prevention, school organization, home-school collaboration, effective instruction, school-wide discipline, etc. work?)

* How do we decide, out of all the students struggling in schools, the ones who are eligible for special services?

* How can we use assessment information to plan effective instructional programs?

* Do specific testing accommodations (e.g., reading the math test) alter the validity of a test?

* What are the consequences of high-stakes assessments?

* To what extent do technology-enhanced assessment systems improve progress monitoring?

* What should training and practice in school psychology look like?

The research findings are drawn from a number of funded centers, institutes, and projects. These include the Minnesota Institute for Research on Learning Disabilities, our Enrollment Options Studies (charters, alternative schools, and open enrollment), the National School Psychology Inservice Training Network housed at the University of Minnesota, a set of projects on Efficacy of Technology- Enhanced Progress Monitoring Systems, a project on consequences of the Assessment Provisions of IDEA, and one on the Consequences of NCLB for Students and Systems. All of these were endeavors I directed, but all also were staffed by highly capable researchers and graduate students.

THE CONTEXT FOR THE RESEARCH (1971-2009)

It is always critical for us to remember that the United States is the only nation that strives in its educational endeavors for a dual mission: excellence and equity. The U.S. view of school improvement is that it requires articulation ofhigh standards, rigorous assessment of progress toward those standards, and teacher and school accountability for student achievement as reflected in test scores. …