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A conversation with Jonathan Templin

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

LAWRENCE- Jonathan Templin, professor and associate chair of the Department of Educational Psychology, joined the School of Education in 2014. His research and teaching career is devoted to studying, designing and evaluating tests and assessments in education. Templin’s first statistics class, in high school, spurred his interest in the field. Before that, he notes, “I hated math, I hated science in high school. Then I took a statistics class and I was like, ‘wow, there’s something you can do with math.’” 

What he particularly wants to do with math in his current position is make sure that students in K-12 schools are taking focused tests and assessments that help them and their educators enhance their education. “I think up to this point most of my work has been what you would call basic research rather than applied. I’ve tried to develop new methods for understanding data that come from testing so we can build shorter and more precise tests — ones that are more focused on information that would lead to help for students or help for teachers and aid in the classroom more than anything else. Recently, I’ve been trying to find ways and avenues to move the research I’ve done into more practical situations and more education-based situations. 

“I’ve been interested in seeing if we can find ways of getting more reliable information from the same amounts of tests that we give students. Since testing is all over the place, it would be better if we can cut down on testing or repurpose it to get a more usable set — so that it helps education, rather than seeming to work against everything we try to do in education,” says Templin.

That’s an advantage of being at the University of Kansas and in the School of Education. KU, says Templin, “is a great university. It’s the right mix of size and ability to have help with research funding but is still concerned about teaching. There’s also an understanding that the best way that we teach, especially the graduate classes, is through our research. That’s where we learn and pass our discoveries on through our students as best we can. There’s every opportunity to do that at KU and that makes me want to stay.” 

Working at a school of education means, according to Templin, “You have to face reality because the people here are being trained for education. The testing world doesn’t seem to value the teacher as much as they should. Right now, if you think of the way that students are tested at the end of the school year for the key grades, the tests are so broad. For example, a math test doesn’t tell you the specific components that go into it. My research is really trying to work for a more narrow focus, much more specific tests, understanding perhaps at the standards level what the student might know or might not know.” 

Templin is working with some of his previous research to build assessments that students use for monitoring their progress in learning. “They’ll be taking regular pre- and postunit assessment, much like homework. We have psychometric models that we’re using behind the scenes providing instant feedback with the model directly,” Templin explains. “That provides instantaneous feedback that teachers can use that day or the next day to help understand where students in the classroom are,” he says. It could be expanded beyond that particular time and curriculum and could be mapped for students across their entire K-12 academic career. 

Templin believes that online technology can be used to “personalize a learning environment to help children even if they’re off-grade, above or below.” Students would be able to take assessments based on their individual needs, “instead of the way we do it now where everybody in a certain grade gets that grade’s test. It’s better for everyone because the students are appropriately aligned to where they need to be for content, where they need to start learning.”

TIMELINE- This is Templin’s second faculty position at KU. He says he is happy to be back at the University of Kansas and notes that he can see his old office (in psychology) from his current office window. 

2004 Ph.D., Quantitative Psychology University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

2004-2007 Assistant professor, Department of Psychology, University of Kansas 

2007-2012 Assistant and associate professor, Department of Psychology and Georgia Center for Assessment, School of Education, University of Georgia 

2012-2013 Associate professor, Department of Psychology, University of Nebraska–Lincoln 

2014-current Associate and full professor, Department of Educational Psychology, School of Education, University of Kansas

OF NOTE- Templin received the inaugural Robert L. Linn Memorial Recognition Award in 2017 from the National Council on Measurement in Education (NCME). The award honors early or midcareer scholars who exemplify insightful and interdisciplinary contributions to educational measurement and policy. It was named in honor of Linn, “who was an inspirational leader in the field of measurement and policy and professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of California, Los Angeles for more than 40 years.” 

In addition to his work at KU, Templin is a member of the Research, Evaluation, Measurement, and Statistics (REMS) Program and a faculty fellow for the Center for Research Methods and Data Analysis. He is currently co-editor of the Journal of Educational Measurement and associate editor for Psychometrika. He coauthored the book Diagnostic Measurement: Theory, Methods, and Applications, which won the 2012 American Educational Research Association Division D Award for Significant Contribution to Educational Measurement and Research Methodology. Templin also received the 2015 AERA Cognition and Assessment SIG Award for Outstanding Contribution to Research in Cognition and Assessment.

MAKING STATISTICS WORK — FOR BASKETBALL- Templin realized that he could apply statistics to sports while as an undergraduate at Sacramento State. “I got into it more as a hobby,” he remembers. “You start learning statistics and you like sports and the next thing you know you have to put the two together. It became a way to really learn more about statistics but also enjoy it as an application. Recently it’s been a way to try out new crazy things with the way we model data.” 

He first developed a model for predicting the outcomes of the NCAA basketball tournament in 2015. That method was tweaked for the 2017 tournament. “It took into consideration not only how strong a team might be but also how consistent... I think it has some promise.” He hopes to make further refinements in the future, time permitting. 

See the full story on the School of Education website: epsy.ku.edu/ncaa-stats

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