20 Years of Problem Solving and a Positive Outlook for the Future

Oct 03, 2018

Reflections on the Center’s Efforts to Improve Educational Assessment and Accountability

Note: The following remarks were delivered by Center for Assessment Executive Director Scott Marion at the Center’s 20th Anniversary Dinner on Sept. 26, 2018.

I’m thrilled to be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment with so many people who have been so important to the Center and its success over the years. Isaac Newton once quipped, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Those of us working at the Center feel this way all the time.  

I learned so much from Rich Hill. It is hard to know where to start. He was probably the best practical problem solver I’ve ever seen. Rich taught us how to run a business effectively while maintaining a laser focus on highly principled business practices. I always appreciated that Rich encouraged me to develop my own leadership style and approach rather than adopt his.

I also had the good fortune to be mentored by Brian Gong. I appreciated our different styles and I think Brian did too, although every once in a while, he’d have to say—in his gentle way—“it probably would have been good if we checked in together before you responded to so and so.” Brian has taught me to try to define the principle behind the issue and avoid reacting to what appears to be a one-off problem. Finally, I’ll be forever grateful to Brian for his generosity in giving me a chance to serve as executive director well before he was ready to retire.

If there is one person who is at the hub of the Center’s six degrees of separation (the “Kevin Bacon” of the measurement community), it is Dale Carlson, the long-time California assessment director. Dale was the Center’s first Board chair and he was Lorrie Shepard’s first boss out of grad school. Lorrie was my graduate advisor. After Lorrie left California to head back to Colorado, Rich Hill took her place working for Dale. Over 20 years later, when I started with the Wyoming Department of Education, Dale was there as a consultant. He continued to be a trusted advisor all through my tenure in Wyoming. Dale was unable to join us for this celebration and we miss him tonight. We also miss tremendously Bob Linn, a former Center board member, hero, and trusted advisor to many of us in this room. Coming full circle, I’m thrilled that Lorrie Shepard, my amazing mentor and friend, has just joined the Center’s board.

The Center is governed by a volunteer Board of Trustees. I want to publicly celebrate Mark Musick, our board chair who understands the right balance between push and pull, and all of the other Board members here tonight: Peg Goertz, Henry Braun, Carl Cohn, Linda Cook, Brian Gong, Peter McWalters, Lorrie Shepard, and Peter Walcek. We must also acknowledge Laurie Wise who is just stepping down from our board.  

We’re thrilled that so many former Center board members and associates were able to join us tonight. The Center is like a family, and while we have been sad to see folks go, we’ve always been happy for you as you pursue new opportunities. Thank you for continuing to be part of the Center family.

By design, the Center is and will remain a small organization. This allows us to remain nimble so that we can pursue emerging issues in real time. However, we want to have a positive influence on policy and practice, which can be tough to do as a small organization. We learned early on the value of strategic partnerships. In fact, the very first project that I worked on in 2003 was a partnership with Laura Slover from Achieve where Charlie and I were trying to help Indiana figure out what proficiency meant. Achieve continues to be a valuable partner. We have never worked on an assessment project targeted at the students with the most significant cognitive disabilities without partnering with the special education experts from the National Center for Educational Outcomes (NCEO). WestEd has been a long-time and valued partner. They joined with us as a RILS sponsor for many years and we worked together on several other projects.  We’re grateful for our relatively new partnerships with Knowledge Works, iNACOL, and the Center for Innovation in Education. Finally, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) has been a critical partner over the years. We are able to provide technical expertise to support CCSSO’s extensive reach and influence with states. Scott Norton, a key deputy at CCSSO, and I were both members of the Center’s and WestEd’s humbly-named “super TAC” when we were both state assessment directors. Carissa Moffat-Miller, the relatively new executive director of CCSSO, was a fabulous deputy director for many years at CCSSO and we’re thrilled that CCSSO named her as the first woman executive director of the organization.

Of course, we wouldn’t be celebrating our 20th anniversary if it were not for our State partners.  The Center partners with our state and district clients over the long term so that we can better understand the particular contexts in which we are working. We are proud that we’ve partnered with many states over our 20 years to build tremendous capacity among our colleagues working on the front lines of assessment and accountability. We’ve worked with almost every state in the U.S. and with many states and districts for more than 10 years!  

These terrific colleagues and partners know that we are a bit of a restless organization. We’re happy to look back to reflect on our accomplishments, but we are trying to look ahead to address tomorrow’s challenges and issues. We took this 20th anniversary opportunity to spend the last year working together to think about how the field needs to move forward in assessment, accountability and validation. A subsequent blog post provides additional details on the Center’s developing research and practice agenda.

I close by talking about the heart of the Center for Assessment. We are an organization composed of incredibly gifted professionals, all of whom are stars in their own right. The Center is truly a case where the group is greater than the sum of its parts. We constantly push and prod each other to be better, but we also support each other in our individual and collective efforts in doing so.

I feel really fortunate to have the privilege of leading this organization. Any of you who have worked with the Center know that Center professionals are really smart! Intellect is important, but it is not the most important characteristic of Center professionals. I’m proud to work with people with such high levels of integrity and a commitment to try to make things better for kids and educators. Center professionals are intellectually curious and confidently take risks to solve difficult problems to help others and/or find ways to do things better than before. 

I know the Center isn’t always the easiest place to work, especially when you’re trying to get home on a Friday night and you’re just hoping not to get stuck in some remote airport. We know that families pay when we miss the right life-work balance, like many of us do, so I’d like to thank all of our families for helping us do what we do. Yet, this is my dream job because of the following terrific people that I get to call colleagues and friends: Damian Betebenner, Juan D’Brot, Charlie DePascale, Nathan Dadey, Carla Evans, Brian Gong, Leslie Keng, Erika Landl, Susan Lyons, Joseph Martineau, and Jeri Thompson.

You all hear a lot about the Center professionals, but those of us who work at the Center know that Erin Joyce and LauraLee McGuane, along with support from Sandi Chaplin, really make the place run. We are so blessed to have this amazing group of professionals do their work so we can do ours. LauraLee has been here since the doors opened in 1998 and Erin joined soon after me. 

Last, but definitely not least, I want to say a few words about our Associate Director Chris Domaleski. I am proud to say that I recruited Chris to the Center, except he was too humble to recognize that he was being recruited. He has become the go-to guy on many national accountability efforts, often in partnership with CCSSO and other organizations. When Brian told me that he was stepping down, I didn’t need to think about who I’d want as my associate director. My biggest question was whether or not Chris and Kerra would be willing to relocate to New Hampshire. I’m so thankful that they were willing to take this risk. Chris Domaleski is an amazing professional, trusted advisor, and terrific leader who I am blessed to call a friend.

Please join us in welcoming the next 20 years and helping us make progress on the challenges we face to bring about a more equitable educational system than we have now.