Nov 12 2020

Professor Kristen Missall, as part of a team of researchers, has received a four-year $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences to create a computerized-adaptive assessment system for pre-kindergarten mathematics.

The team -- Missall, Robin Hojnoski from Lehigh University, David Purpura from Purdue University, and Tony Albano from the University of California-Davis -- aims to create a mathematics assessment that will serve as a universal screening tool in preschool classrooms. Assessment questions will center on numbers and operations, measurement, shape and space, and pre-algebraic thinking. Because the assessment is adaptive, it will identify areas of difficulty for the preschooler as they move through the assessment and select additional questions in that area, gathering information that will help teachers target their instruction.

“These additional items will provide information for the teacher about where they can target their instruction in a very intentional way to help make sure those preschoolers get explicit experience with those early math skills,” Missall said.

This is one reason why a computerized assessment is useful. The digital platform also allows teachers to administer the assessment quickly, which minimizes testing time, and receive results instantaneously. It creates a better experience for preschoolers as well.

“It gives us the opportunity to create more of a game-like setting that should be really engaging and fun for the preschoolers,” Missall said. “It can be more interactive.”

Creating an assessment that feels like a game rather than a test is important for Missall’s team. While parents and preschool teachers are often understandably hesitant about testing children as young as age four, understanding how a child’s early math skills are developing and addressing areas of concern is crucial.

“There’s lots of research suggesting that kids’ math skills going into kindergarten are really important for predicting their later success in math and school,” Missall said. “So even though we don’t like talking about testing in preschool and we want to just let kids be kids, it really matters what their math development looks like.”

During the first year of funding, as the team develops prototype assessment questions, they will conduct focus groups with teachers across four states. These groups will discuss whether questions are appropriate for preschoolers and culturally responsive as well as the usability of the platform.

By the end of the first year, the team’s goal is to pilot the assessment with a diverse group of about 50 preschoolers. This will allow them to see whether preschoolers enjoy and can persist with the assessment and whether their responses provide valuable information for teachers.

“These first phases are iterative in terms of developing the tool and getting feedback from educators, families, and children and if we have to make changes, we will,” Missall said. “We’re being very careful to make sure that the tool is working to meet our goals before we roll it out  full scale.”

The team expects to test the assessment with hundreds of preschoolers across the country in the second and third years of the grant. 

Story by Gabriela Tedeschi, marketing and communications student aide.

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