It’s a role far from her ambitions as an undergraduate, when she trained in animal sciences at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, set on being an equine surgeon. But Maria moved to Oklahoma, began teaching middle school math and science and fell in love with both.

What followed was a long journey through educational leadership in the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Maria began on contract, writing curriculum for Next Generation Science Standards, and was eventually hired as a science specialist. When she left six years later, her title was Deputy Superintendent of Assessment & Accountability, responsible for the offices of assessment, accountability, data information systems, data literacy, data quality, research and more.

Along the way, she earned a master’s degree in educational leadership and administration from Southwestern Oklahoma State University and will complete a doctoral degree in research, evaluation, measurement and statistics from Oklahoma State University in 2023.

Why the deep interest in assessment? “I think it’s because it’s the balance of art and science,” she said.

“My dissertation focuses on school quality and accountability, but there’s a balance with practicality, with real teachers and students in the classroom,” she said. “I have four kids of my own, so I care a lot about public school and access to education. But I also care about the technical capability needed to ensure that the systems and measurements we create support the validity claims we make.”

In 2022, Maria left state leadership to join New Meridian as Vice President of Assessment Design and Development. She sees the next generation of assessment as a challenge, getting past single-score summative tests and balancing needs in the classroom with those at the district and state level.

“What struck me was some of the innovation in balanced assessment systems,” she said. “People have talked about balancing assessment systems for years. New Meridian is doing it.”