KU News Release


August 24, 2012
Contact: Laurie Harrison, The Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation, 785-864-1594

KU working with Lawrence students to develop assessment system

Julie Shaftel, CETE research associate, assists a Lawrence public schools student during lab.


LAWRENCE — Work is under way to see how students with significant cognitive disabilities interact with the computer assessment system being developed for them by the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation at the University of Kansas.

Recently, the center’s staff started conducting one-one-sessions known as cognitive labs with elementary through high school students from Lawrence public schools.

During each cognitive lab, a student completes about 10 math and 10 English language arts sample test questions on a computer, while staff observe and video-record, which allows for further study of student responses.

“Until now, it has not been common practice to formally assess students with significant cognitive disabilities using a computer, and these cognitive labs will help us see how students interact with the Dynamic Learning Maps assessment system we’re creating,” said Patti Whetstone, one of two center research associates conducting the labs. “We want to make sure that the system we create has an accessible and engaging interface.”

Cognitive labs are just one phase in the center’s development of the Dynamic Learning Maps Alternate Assessment, which is for the 1 percent of the K-12 student population with significant cognitive disabilities, set to be implemented during the 2014-2015 school year. The project is just one portion of the Kansas Interactive Testing Engine, a computer-based platform the center is developing to replace its current test delivery and management system. The development of the Kansas Interactive Testing Engine continues the center’s track record of developing innovative, large-scale, computer-based assessments.

Each lab lasts from 30 to 60 minutes, and Whetstone expects about 15 to 20 labs to take place before the fall in video-equipped rooms on campus, with the goal of gathering student feedback on the usability of the interface.

Additional labs tentatively planned for the fall and winter will take place in the schools and will focus on how students respond to different types of test questions, computer adaptations and accommodations, and how assistive technology and alternative augmentative communication devices work with the interface.

“Our goal is to create this interface and then continually improve it so we can accommodate the independence needs of a larger variety of students within the population of students with significant cognitive disabilities,” said Julie Shaftel, research associate conducting the labs. “The ultimate goal of the Dynamic Learning Maps assessment system is to allow students with significant cognitive disabilities to be independent. Teacher support should always be available to these students, but the ultimate goal is that the assessment system will be so customizable that most students in this population will be able to respond to assessment questions online independently.”

The Dynamic Learning Maps Alternate Assessment System is funded through a $22 million grant—the largest in KU history—awarded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs in late 2010. The Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation leads the 13-state consortium of state departments of education in charge of creating a computer-based, alternate assessment for students with significant cognitive disabilities for whom, even with accommodations, standardized state assessments are inappropriate. Students with significant cognitive disabilities participate in alternate assessments in order to measure and account for their educational progress.

The Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation is a nationally recognized research center specializing in large-scale assessment and online test delivery systems. For more than 30 years, it has developed cutting-edge, large-scale testing programs and technology tools, including the Kansas Assessment Program, Dynamic Learning Maps, Kansas Writing Instruction and Education Tool and Adaptive Reading Motivation Measures.



The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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