‘Assessment Could be Tied to Instruction in a Different Way’

Terran Brown

Terran Brown joined New Meridian as Vice President of Assessment Design and Development earlier this year after 15 years at ETS, where he was Executive Director of Psychometrics for Student and Teacher Assessments. We caught up with him in late September to discuss his background, his goals and the future of assessment. 

How did you get interested in psychometrics?

I grew up in Southern California and I was very interested in math and statistics. I went and did a Master’s at UC Davis, thinking that I was going to do a PhD. But there was something missing. I really wanted to tie statistics to social policy and social science type issues. I always thought the application of statistics was more useful and more meaningful to me.

It was around 2001, when the No Child Left Behind Act was passed, and my wife is a teacher. I remember helping her analyze her classroom data. My wife primarily taught in very challenging environments and she was concerned about testing and the whole idea that teachers were going to be rewarded based on test scores. It was her desire to teach students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. She was concerned about what it would mean for her and the students she taught.  That was the impetus for me to say, ‘yeah, I want to research this.’ I had never heard about the field of psychometrics. And so I actually applied and got into a Quantitative Research Methodology in Education PhD program.

What do you see ahead for New Meridian’s assessment program?

One of the key things is making strong contributions to balance assessment systems. The field is kind of at a crossroads, mainly because of COVID. Where do we go from here? And, you know, the field has been yearning for better information that comes faster and can impact the student much more rapidly. Traditional standards-based assessments were summative, end-of-year assessments. It takes a long time to produce high-quality results and it’s not really helping educators make decisions when data comes weeks before the school year begins

I was a school board member for 10 years, and I remember getting test results the last week in August, and they were under embargo. We didn’t have a public release until October, when we told the community how the students performed. It wasn’t until November, before the board of education could formally approve an action plan to address learning gaps. So having tools out there that allow you to shift gears very quickly is important.

It’s part of the bigger picture on how assessments are currently delivered. Users want them to do so many different things. They want to use assessments to help students and to help plan, but they were really designed to be a barometer, to give an overall snapshot of what kids know come the end of the year. But assessment could be tied to instruction in a different way. It could be part of a through-course model where they end up taking several mid-year assessments that bubble up into an overall score. There are technical challenges that go along with it. But that’s one of the things I’m looking forward to working on and hopefully put New Meridian in a position where we can be a leader.

“I’ve always wanted assessment to be a tool to help those who may not have the resources or the advantages. I think assessment shouldn’t tell you where you can’t go. It should give you opportunities to improve yourself, so you can go where you want to go.”

Where do you see assessment headed in the next few years?

I think there are going to be a lot shorter, more-informational assessments that will bundle up and collectively paint a full picture of what a student knows or doesn’t know. I think having more personalized learning and personalized assessments will be more commonplace. I think there’s got to be more of an interplay between instruction and assessment, but not in the ways we have seen in the past. I think we are going to see assessment as a real diagnostic tool, so that we can actually improve student learning. My hope is that there will be more personalized learning as a byproduct of that, which means that students who need more help will get more opportunities to get that help and students who are accelerating in their learning won’t be held back.

From my perspective, I’ve always wanted assessment to be a tool to help those who may not have the resources or the advantages. I think the game changer in my own life was the ability to go to college. Both my sister and I were the first generation to go to college in our family. To get from where I started, and how I grew up, to where I am now is really based on having a good education and the  opportunity that came from it. I think assessment shouldn’t tell you where you can’t go. It should give you opportunities to improve yourself, so you can go where you want to go.

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