Worthwhile Research to Answer Worthwhile Questions

By Joanna Gorin

My two sons are dressed, fed and ready for school while I hastily review drop-off and pick-up duties. It’s my day to drive them to school.

Upon arrival, we say our goodbyes and I encourage the boys to work hard and to have a great day. They pile out of the car and race each other to the school’s front doors. Morning routine complete.

My thoughts then begin to focus on the workday ahead. They don’t have to stray too far because the work my colleagues and I have dedicated our careers as researchers to has and will continue to influence many things that occur within the walls of my boys’ school.

Data excites me. It helps us discover better ways forward. Finding answers to what we don’t know motivated me to study statistics and measurement and eventually teach them to graduate students at Arizona State University and continues to through my work today as a vice president of research at ETS.

Data excites me. It helps us discover better ways forward.

~

There are big challenges in education right now that we don’t necessarily know how to solve. Raising literacy levels. Increasing access to high-quality teachers. Improving higher education learning outcomes. Clearing pathways to careers in STEAM. Closing the achievement gap. This is just to name a few.

There are big challenges in education right now that we don’t necessarily know how to solve.

~

Over the last few years, ETS leaders challenged all of us to evaluate whether our efforts are aligned toward improving the advancement of quality and equity in education.

This not only caused us in the Research area at ETS to look inward but also to look outward. Putting our mission at the center meant really thinking about what challenges are important to educators, students, parents, administrators and policymakers.

When I looked around me, I saw a lot of dedicated, intelligent colleagues — hundreds of people — doing incredible work on mission-related projects, such as creating tools for English-language learners and teachers, and working on better ways to assess people with disabilities.

But I also saw silos — people working on projects in different departments that could gain momentum if resources were combined. We saw opportunities to think bigger, to work together better and to put the mission at the center.

What I kept asking myself was, is our research actually designed to have positive impact on education and workplace opportunities for all?  And if so, how would we know we were successful?

Putting the mission at the center meant really thinking about what challenges are most significant for education stakeholders, whether ETS research has the capacity and capability to address these challenges, and then determining how to realign projects, staff and funding to support the work.

Putting our mission at the center meant really thinking about what challenges are important to educators, students, parents, administrators & policy makers.

~

This time of organized reflection resulted in nine Big Educational Challenges identified and ETS researchers were invited to submit ideas for projects that would contribute toward solving them. After a nine-month process of informed discussions, passionate presentations and rigorous reviews, ETS committed to supporting 23 comprehensive projects that bring together experts in learning, teaching, cognition, language, social and emotional development, technology innovation, accessibility, statistics and psychometrics, design and usability, and validity.

The point of these efforts is to use targeted research and its resulting data and capabilities to inform and implement effective solutions to these challenges. Then it’s about holding ourselves accountable and measuring whether we were successful. Continuously building and testing new theories and models, always striving toward being part of an educational ecosystem that improves teaching and learning.

In the end, it’s about our mission, it’s about students achieving learning outcomes everywhere, including my boys; even if it means their Spanish skills stay one step ahead of my own.