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University of Iowa News Release

March 30, 2006

UI College Of Education Names Dunbar Iowa Testing Programs Director

University of Iowa College of Education Professor Steve Dunbar has been named director of the Iowa Testing Programs.

He is only the fourth person in 58 years to head ITP, which coordinates a cooperative statewide testing program for Iowa schools, develops the widely used Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) and Iowa Tests of Educational Development (ITED) and is considered one of the UI's "crown jewels" for its far-reaching influence and international reputation.

Dunbar has been co-directing the program with colleagues Tim Ansley and Dave Frisbie since 2003, when former director Robert Brennan stepped down to become director of the Center for Advanced Studies of Measurement and Assessment.

"With the intense focus on testing in education today, now seemed a good time for a single individual to assume the leadership of the Iowa Testing Programs," College of Education Dean Sandra Damico said. "I am pleased Steve Dunbar has agreed to do so."

Dunbar said his immediate goal is to maintain the quality, and expand the reach, of the ITBS and ITED, often referred to collectively as the "Iowa Tests." He said that job will be particularly challenging as schools across the country scramble to raise test scores in accordance with federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) laws.

"The Iowa tests right now are taken by students in all 50 states as well as several U.S. territories," Dunbar said. "But with the onset of the NCLB legislation, the use of our tests has become concentrated more at the school district level rather than the state level. States are moving toward very major contracts with test publishers that require a substantial amount of customization, so the test batteries are designed to very closely align with the content standards and achievement goals of particular states."

ITP's staff, by comparison, wants to continue doing what it does well: produce good, methodologically sound tests that are relevant across the country, regardless of the vagaries of legislative mandates and political agendas at the state level.

"We measure a very well-defined core of achievement in the grades K-12, but we don't design our materials specifically to adhere, say, to what fourth-grade students in Kansas learn in science," he said.

One advantage the UI ITP has over other developers of educational measurement tools, and the reason it can so closely control the direction of the ITBS and ITED, is that the UI maintains control of the copyright to those tests and develops them with professional staff in the College of Education.

"This arrangement gives us an advantage in that our tests tend to be less market-driven than the other major test batteries," Dunbar said. "This allows us to maintain some control over the quality of content and technical underpinnings of the test batteries and test scores."

Some new things are on the horizon as well, Dunbar says. One of the ITP's strategic goals is to position the program so it's ready to provide comprehensive examinations online as more Iowa schools move in that direction. And it's looking to expand its approaches to assessment.

"We're beginning some end-of-course testing at the high school level, which is a little bit of back-to-the-future for the Iowa Testing Programs," he said. "Under (ITP founder) E.F. Lindquist in the late 1920s and early 1930s the program developed end-of-course tests tied to specific instruction, for instance in algebra or geometry, and we haven't done that kind of assessment in many years."

Additionally, the ITP is developing new reporting systems so test results -- from the individual level to the state level -- can be tracked over time, rather than just as a moment in time. Dunbar also wants to see the program play an active and collaborative role with other departments in the UI College of Education, where, for instance, "we think assessment dovetails with curriculum studies or school policy."

Most of all, Dunbar says he looks forward to continuing his work with some of the best faculty and professional staff on the UI campus.

"I'm humbled by it, literally. It's a tremendous honor," he said. "ITP has, I believe, the strongest staff in the areas of test development, research and operations that we've had in a long time, and that gives me great confidence moving forward in this position."

Dunbar teaches educational measurement and statistics, has published numerous articles and book chapters on large-scale assessment and serves as director of and principal author of the ITBS. He holds a B.A. in English from the University of Wisconsin and an A.M. and Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of Illinois.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Stephen J. Pradarelli, 319-384-0007, stephen-pradarelli@uiowa.edu