CARS Newsletter February & March 2020

As many of you know, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the University shifted all operations online starting March 16th. We were in the middle of working on our February newsletter when this news came, and we felt that the content being shared from February was overshadowed by this new reality. Now that we have been settling into our "new normal" of working from home for a few weeks, I am happy to share this newsletter for the combined months of February and March. As you can guess, many of the events scheduled for March were either cancelled, or moved to a virtual space. Though some of this information is being shared a little late, we want to make sure that we highlight the wonderful things our folks had done before all of this happened. It is important that despite the circumstances, we still find ways to celebrate each other and our good work.

JMU Delegation Travels to Rwanda

A team of JMU faculty and staff traveled to Kigali, Rwanda in February of 2020. The purpose of the trip was to build reciprocal partnerships between JMU and Rwandan universities and civic leaders. Center for Assessment & Research Studies (CARS) and Department of Graduate Psychology faculty member, Jeanne Horst, was part of the group for purposes of offering information on assessment-related professional development opportunities. While in Rwanda, the team met with the Ministry of Education, the Higher Education Council, and several universities: African Leadership University, University of Kigali, University of Rwanda, and Kepler.

Currently, Rwanda is undergoing a transition in higher education. In previous decades, Rwandan education emphasized quantity and provision of access to education. Recent emphasis has shifted to defining quality of education. The shift in emphasis led to increased interest in the assessment of student learning and faculty development.

While in Rwanda, the team also engaged in activities to enhance their cultural understanding. A trip to the Kigali Genocide Memorial and the Parliament Museum helped the team develop an understanding of the historical, social, and political context in Rwanda. The delegation also met with non-governmental organizations" I-Debate, Never Again Rwanda, and Aegis: Preventing Crimes Against Humanity. Nightly, meals in private homes resulted in rich conversations between JMU delegates and I-Debate coaches. Finally, a day-long drive through Akagera National Park allowed the team to explore the rich wildlife of Rwanda - water buffalo, zebras, giraffes, crocodiles, hippos, elephants, various primates, and wart hogs.

Assessment Day: A Year-Round Operation

On February 11th, the CARS Assessment Day team, along with the support of MANY others, executed a successful Spring Assessment Day. The weather held up (thank goodness!) and we were able to deliver all three testing sessions without conflict. Our attendance numbers were similar to past Spring dates. The February testing date is often during peak flu season, so we anticipate a significant number of absences related to health. Nevertheless, the majority of students showed up and participated without incident. Our team of graduate assistants, under the capable leadership of Dena Pastor, were able to get all attendance, and data management done before the university transitioned to remote work. Our work will continue throughout the semester, and we will begin working on contingency plans for Fall Assessment Day. We are hopeful that we will be back on campus come August, but will eventually start working on ways to deliver Assessment Day in a virtual capacity, if need be. The Center for Assessment would like to take a moment to thank all of the people who help make Assessment Day a success: our internal and external proctors, University Programs and our administration in Academic Affairs, the facilities and building staff across campus, telecom, catering, lab services and classroom technologies, orientation, HDPT, and all the other departments who are involved in this large-scale event. This newsletter will wrap-up our feature about Assessment Day. Over the last few months, we have provided an "inside look" to what it takes to conduct a university-wide event such as Assessment Day. If you want to read more about Assessment Day, check out this article in the AIR Professional File that was written by CARS Faculty & a former Assessment Day GA team: University-Wide Assessment Days: The James Madison University Model.

The 2019-20 Assessment Day Team: Beth Perkins, Sean York, Dena Pastor, Paula Love, and Tom Waterbury as we pose for our yearly "meta" team photo.

Spring Assessment Forum & Assessment Celebration...

Both the Spring Assessment Forum (scheduled for March 18th & 19th) and the Spring Assessment Celebration (April 22nd) were affected by the decision to transition to a remote work environment. We know that our Assessment Coordinators rely on the Assessment Forum to get important updates related to their annual assessment work, and assessment reporting. As such, we will send out a powerpoint that includes most of the updates that were to be covered in March. One of the topics, however, will be postponed to a later date. Our staff feel that the conversations surrounding possible changes to the APT reporting process deserve more than just an email. We will revisit this topic when we are all able to gather in person again, and hope that our coordinators, as well as academic unit heads will provide feedback for us that will help guide any decisions related to changes. The Spring Celebration will be postponed until a later date - hopefully sometime in the fall. We were thrilled with the quantity and the quality of the poster proposals we received prior to cancelling. We have been in touch with presenters and we hope that they will still consider sharing their work when we are able to hold this event in person. Look for more information about the Celebration once campus re-opens.

Spring in the Valley is a beautiful time. Despite practicing social-distancing, many of us are relishing the opportunties to get our for walks in our neighborhoods. Even so, I know we are all missing the beauty of the quad this time of year.


Our student spotlight for this edition of the newsletter is Andrea Pope, a 4th year Ph.D. student - who just defended her dissertation earlier this week! Andrea received her Master's in Education from the College Student Personnel Administration (CSPA) program here at JMU. Prior to that she attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for her undergraduate studies; where she was a double major in sociology and public policy. Andrea says she chose JMU for her graduate work because of the university's commitment to funding graduate students. After finishing her M.Ed. she chose to stay at JMU for her Ph.D. because of what the Assessment & Measurement program could offer her. Specifically, she says "the coursework seemed intellectually rigorous and highly useful." She also credits the opportunities to work in an assistantship to get hands-on experiences. Like many students, she also notes that the faculty were welcoming and invested in the success of their students. We must be doing something right!

Andrea's interests lie at the intersection of assessment and instructional design. She says "Oftentimes, assessment professionals make the assumption that our clients know how to build sound educational interventions and they just need our help to assess the impact of these interventions." Through her research, however, she has found that faculty and staff "...regularly build educational programs and interventions without a clear understanding of how/why these programs should lead to intended outcomes." She points out that the result of this misunderstanding often becomes frustrating for faculty as they struggle to meaningfully use assessment results. Andrea's research is devoted to exploring what it looks like to build evidence-informed programs, courses, and interventions in higher education (particularly in Student Affairs.) She also strives to find ways to get more faculty and staff to engage in this intentional instructional design process.

With interests like that it is no surprise that Andrea has had a multitude of opportunities to apply her research during her time as a student and graduate assistant here at JMU. Her favorite experience, though, was the paper she wrote about evidence-informed programming (that was published in RPA!) and the presentation she gave based on that paper at an international Student Affairs Conference. The room she was assigned to present in was intimidatingly large (her own words) and every seat was filled. By the time she completed her presentation, there were more than 100 Student Affairs professionals in attendance! This should come as no surprise, however, as the thing our faculty praise Andrea for the most are her presentation skills. Andrea is an incredibly effective facilitator and this has been evident in many of the workshops and professional offerings she has conducted in her time in CARS.

As Andrea prepares to graduate in a few weeks she wants to acknowledge how much she appreciates her experience in the Assessment & Measurement Ph.D. program. She notes that having the ability to truly make this program her own, and find a direction that helped her identify her strengths and interests, was so valuable to her. She provides this advice for incoming students:

"Find the things that energize you, and do those things! Tailor your graduate experience to fit you, and don't feel guilty about saying "no". Every time you say "no" to something you're ambivalent about, it opens up space down the road to say "yes" to something that ignites your passion."

In addition to our monthly student spotlight, we want to take this time to say congratulations to our graduate and doctoral students who have successfully defended their dissertations and theses this month...

Psychological Sciences, Quantitative Psychology M.A.

Briana Craig - Propensity Score Matching and Generalized Boosted Modeling in the Context of Model Misspecification: A Simulation Study. Her committee members were Jeanne Horst (chair), Dena Pastor, and Christine DeMars.

Kathryn Thompson - The Effects of Undesirable Distractions on Estimates of Ability. Her committee members were Brian Leventhal (chair), Debbi Bandalos, and Christine DeMars.

Assessment & Measurement Ph.D.

Andrea Pope - Evidence-Informed Programming in Student Affairs: A Mixed Methods Study Examining Behaviors, Perceptions, and Barriers Related to the Use of Theory and Research in Program Development. Her committee members were Sara Finney (chair), Jeanne Horst, Josh Bacon, and John Hathcoat.

Derek Sauder - Can Auxiliary Information Improve Rasch Estimation at Small Sample Sizes? His committee was Christine DeMars (chair), Brian Leventhal, and Dena Pastor.

Tom Waterbury - RISE and Shine: A Comparison of Fit Statistics for the Rasch Model. His committee members were Christine DeMars (chair), Dena Pastor, and John Hathcoat.

Looking Forward...

April & May are typically some of our most exciting months of the year as there are so many milestones to celebrate. Even though we will not be able to share these joyous occasions in person, we will still celebrate all of our graduates in one way or another. In addition to these celebrations, a number of events we normally hold in the late spring and early summer are currently be converted to a virtual format. We will still offer our flagship Assessment 101 workshop through a combination of synchronous and asynchronous programming. We still plan to welcome our incoming graduate students in the Assessment & Measurement and Quantitative Psychology programs. We know that starting a new graduate program and assistantship in an entirely virtual setting presents many challenges, but we are committed to our students and will do what we can to help with this transition. Our staff our in the process of working out what a virtual orientation looks like. While we are unsure what the future holds, and we don't know how long we will need to continue operating in this capacity, we are dedicated to our mission, vision, and values; and will make the best of whatever is to come. We hope that everyone will stay safe and healthy. Best wishes to you all as you finish out the semester.

There are not currently any CARS Talks or events scheduled for the near future. Please contact us and let us know if there are ways we can support your professional development in Assessment during this time.


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