SOAR Scholars take flight

The SOAR Scholars Take Flight

Aug 03, 2022

Improving and Diversifying the Talent Pool in Educational Assessment 

The newly-launched Strengthening Opportunities in Assessment and Research (SOAR) Program was created to diversify the talent pool in educational measurement. There have been a variety of initiatives over at least the last 30 years to increase the diversity of educational measurement professionals, generally by increasing the number of underrepresented students of color in graduate measurement programs. Many of these efforts have been laudable and have had some success. For example, increasing the representation of young scholars of color in educational measurement is one of the core components of the work of the recently-launched Center for Measurement Justice, led by Dr. Jennifer Randall. 

However, we have been concerned that focusing on graduate school and early career professionals leaves some tremendous potential untapped. After initial brainstorming with Malbert Smith, CEO of MetaMetrics, the Center for Assessment partnered with Dr. Jade Caines Lee, CEO of The JC Research Group, to launch a new program that provides undergraduate students of color with opportunities to explore careers in educational research and measurement. The SOAR Program has taken flight with six scholars in our inaugural year.

SOAR Goals and Approach

The primary goal of The SOAR Program is to raise awareness about the educational measurement/psychometrics field as a career pathway. If we are to realize our goals to make assessments more equitable and socially just, we must have a population of measurement professionals reflective of the population of examinees and the society at large. 

With SOAR, we are attempting to increase the “pipeline” of talented undergraduates entering graduate programs and related careers. Additionally, we aim to complement other programs, such as those at the Center for Measurement Justice, which are focused on graduate students. SOAR is explicitly targeting undergraduate students.

Like many activities at the Center for Assessment, we employ logic model thinking in laying out the specific program objectives. As noted above, our primary intention is to increase the number of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people employed in educational measurement, psychometrics, and social science research. Since we do not know anyone who made a beeline from high school to psychometrics, we must first raise awareness that such a field exists. 

Think back to your career trajectory. How many of you even thought about educational measurement or psychometrics as undergraduates? If you are a first-generation college student, you might have placed substantial importance on exploring careers with high-income earning potential. Were you exposed to the measurement field as a viable career pathway?  The answer is likely “no,” which is why we want to create awareness of this rewarding and important field.  Further, educational measurement is a rewarding career that can be a vehicle toward upward mobility that should be available to all who might have the capacity and interest. 

Internships with Partner Organizations

We have specifically targeted students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Black, Brown, and Indigenous students at predominantly white institutions (PWIs) to recruit promising, quantitatively-minded students into summer internships at assessment companies and governmental and non-governmental organizations. Thanks to our committed partners focused in the Atlanta area, Cognia, Gwinnett County Public Schools, and the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), we have placed six SOAR Scholars in meaningful, 8-week, paid internships (2 at each organization) to expose them to the world of educational research and measurement. In addition to providing a project and structure, each partner has provided an onsite mentor for the two Scholars. Let us introduce you to our 2022 SOAR Scholars:

  • Shakyrah Harris (senior) and Sadiya Lucas (junior) are at Tuskegee University, majoring in Psychology. They are currently interning at SREB with Joseph Tadlock as their mentor and Ivy Alford as their project lead. They are working on an assessment project focused on adult education literacy needs of English Language Learners in the South. 
  • Zakiah Whittaker and Azadi Knight are both rising seniors at Agnes Scott College, majoring in Psychology. Zakiah is currently interning at Cognia with Mark Johnson as her mentor and Frank Padellaro as her project lead. Her primary project relates to standard setting. Azadi is currently interning at Gwinnett County Public Schools, with Shanna Ricketts serving as her mentor and project lead. She is currently conducting research related to assessment accountability data and reporting.
  • Isabella Acquaah is a rising sophomore at Emory University majoring in Psychology. She is currently interning at Gwinnett County Public Schools, with Shanna Ricketts serving as her mentor and project lead. Her primary project relates to research on key performance indicators.
  • Finally, Jada Shealey is a rising senior at Tuskegee University, majoring in Psychology and Political Science. She is currently interning at Cognia with Mark Johnson and Fiona Hinds serving as her co-mentors and Fiona also serving as her project lead. Her primary projects relate to bias and sensitivity item reviews and conducting a landscape analysis of educational measurement organizations.

In addition to learning through the internships, SOAR Scholars participate in weekly “Lunch and Learn” sessions where various professionals from our field share their academic and professional trajectories. Additionally, Jade hosts weekly individualized and small group career development sessions where SOAR Scholars can learn more about themselves and their goals for their professional lives. These sessions have included writing resumes, building their LinkedIn profiles, and analyzing their Clifton StrengthsFinder results.

Moving Along the Pipeline

We know that a single summer internship is not enough to turn someone into a measurement professional. With ongoing, targeted support, we intend to increase the number of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people who apply to graduate programs in educational measurement, psychometrics, or closely-related fields. 

While completing an application is an essential first step, having students accepted into degree programs and then persist and complete those degrees is crucial. We look to partner with organizations like the Center for Measurement Justice and the National Council on Measurement in Education (NCME), both with programs to support graduate students of color as they pursue their advanced degrees, to help manage the challenges of affording and managing graduate education.

Next Steps

Building on this year’s incredible success and the fantastic support and graciousness of our three organizational partners, we intend to expand beyond the Atlanta area and invite other partner organizations to join us as internship sites. We are excited to partner with other measurement organizations as we begin recruiting for the Summer 2023 cohort. 

Our goal is to use feedback from our inaugural SOAR Scholars and placement organizations to place 12 interns in 2023 and 24 in 2024. Therefore, if you and your organization are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion – and especially recruiting more ethnically diverse talent – please reach out to us to sponsor an internship!

Jade Caines Lee, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of The SOAR Program, an Assistant Research Professor at the University of Kansas, and CEO of the The JC Research Group LLC (an educational consulting firm). Jade has been serving clients in their educational research, measurement, and evaluation needs for almost a decade, specializing in evaluation and intervention research that aims to improve teaching and learning for marginalized people.