Monday, April 23, 2007

What I Did on my Spring Break

Psychometricians are peculiar. While most people look forward to spring break by planning family outings, going to the beach to drink beer, or simply forgetting about the grind of existence, we (psychometricians) typically spend them at our annual conference for the National Council on Measurement in Education (NCME) and the American Educational Research Association (AERA). This year was no different as I drove to Chicago on Easter Sunday (April 8th for those of you with different persuasions) looking forward to an invigorating conference with winds in excess of 20 mph and temperatures below freezing. (It even snowed, and the Cubbies were cancelled because of sleet!)

Make fun as I might (and do), I am genuinely recharged at such meetings. I am reminded, in this political world where so little really matters, that what teachers do daily is very important. As such, what psychometricians and measurement professionals do daily is also important. As my batteries consume the flow of research energy, I am also reminded that we are scientists and that our standards of best practice, measurement design and our profession in general MUST BE guided by research.

Perhaps the quality of the research in general does not seem to be at the levels it once was. Perhaps there were too many sessions lamenting the terribleness of NCLB. Perhaps some members of NCME still refuse to embrace their AERA brethren. Despite all of these, there is much to be learned from each research paper presented—if you are wise enough to understand it.

Here are some of the things I learned:

  1. Graduate students, despite how sophisticated they might seem, are very poor presenters. They need coaching around the most simple aspects of text size for overheads, how to articulate without the dreaded "umhs..." and "...ahs..." typical of nervous presenters, and most of all, they have to understand how much information they can really present in the 1o or 12 minutes they have. I don't recall struggling so much with these when I was a gradual student, but I'm sure my memory is as sharp as my presentations were.
  2. Calling the front desk or speaking to the cleaning staff is not likely to bring the elevators to the 29th floor any faster than sacrificing chickens would.
  3. While walking down 29 flights of stairs might be easier than walking up, it is still a really long journey and certainly enough to make you break a sweat.
  4. I would rather buy dinner for a large group of people than listen to ten Ph.D.'s figure out how best to split the bill.
  5. If you bring a printer along, you can actually be quite productive while you work out of your hotel room.
  6. The One-Parameter Logistic Model (OPLM) is really either the Rasch model with two parameters or it is a 2PL Model with fixed, estimated elsewhere, integer a-parameter values.
  7. Kansas, of all places, has an assessment program, and it seems very rigorous and robust.
  8. You don't need to be an alum to attend the Iowa, North Carolina or Michigan State Alumni parties.
  9. Walking home after three alumni parties in a town like Chicago is quite a challenge.
  10. There are more things in common between Thurstone, Guttman, Rasch, and Mokken than there are differences.
  11. "Just Noticeable Differences" or JNDs are alive and well when comparing self-parking at $26.00 a night to valet parking at $35.00 a night.
  12. Pearson sponsored the NATD Breakfast, the NATD Dinner, the Division H Breakfast, the RASCH SIG Dinner, and a graduate student reception, to name a few.

OK, so maybe I should have learned more, but it was spring break after all.

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