Mark Wilson Delivers Lindquist Lecture
Mark Wilson Delivers Lindquist Lecture

November 2021

On November 15, Mark R. Wilson, a longstanding AERA Fellow and a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, delivered the 2019 AERA E. F. Lindquist Lecture to more than 1,000 attendees from 55 countries. The title of his talk was "Finding the Right Grain Size for Measurement in the Classroom" was originally planned for the 2020 Annual Meeting, which was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This award is conferred jointly by AERA and ACT in recognition of outstanding applied or theoretical research in the field of testing and measurement.

AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine opened the lecture welcoming worldwide audience, noting the relevance and importance of high-quality learning assessment to the field of education research. “Dr. Wilson’s talk could not come at a more apt time as school and policy leaders across the country and around the world strive to determine during this COVID-19 pandemic how to best assess the short- and long-term educational consequences for students from all backgrounds, in particular students from underserved communities.”

Levine introduced Guillermo Solano-Flores (Stanford University), chair of the AERA E. F. Lindquist Award Committee, emphasizing the significance of his scholarly work on these very kinds of issues.

Solano-Flores briefly overviewed the significance of this lectureship and the profound impact of Wilson’s innovative methodological work, especially in broadening ideas about assessment data in the classroom.

“Dr. Wilson has made important contributions to the field of educational measurement, especially in the development and implementation of innovative approaches for measurement in education and the social sciences, the development of statistical models suitable for specific measurement contexts, the creation of new constructs, and contributions to the philosophy of measurement,” said Solano-Flores.

Wilson began his talk by noting that during his time as a student teacher, he often wondered: How do I know if I am doing a good job? How do I know if students learned?

“This is a question that troubled me as I went beyond teacher training and became a real teacher in a real classroom, and I still didn’t know how to tell whether I have done a good job or not,” said Wilson. “I feel this is an important gap in education. We know how to do big standardized tests, but those don’t really relate to the things I was trying to teach. Most of the things we want to teach aren’t captured by standardized tests. I’ve been working since then to try to bring a measurement perspective into the classroom to help teachers better know how well they are doing with their students.”

During his talk, Wilson described a framework for designing assessments that is keyed to the scope of the educational interpretations. He explained that the “grain sizes” of these assessments include the micro (teachers observing and interpreting student responses to learning tasks and drawing conclusions in-stream about the success of instruction), the meso (teachers seeking to confirm/explore such interpretations by looking at cumulative outcomes over short periods such as a week or so), and the macro (teachers and administrators using samples of numerous assessments to record student progress on composite achievement outcomes).

Using as a case study a K–5 elementary school that was seeking to improve the quality of instruction and students’ understandings of measure and rational number, Wilson explored how different levels of response interpretations and classroom assessments and could be instantiated with two different pieces of software, which operate at the micro level and the meso/macro levels.

Wilson’s talk underscored the importance of measurement at both the micro and meso levels to better understand how well teachers are instructing in the classroom. The micro level helps teachers record their observations about instruction in place and plan for the next instructional event, while the meso level helps teachers think about the outcomes from instruction and plan for the next phase.

“So, the right grain-size is both micro and meso,” said Wilson, in conclusion.

Wilson’s talk was followed by an engaging Q&A session with questions ranging from ideal sample sizes to possible teacher errors in measurement.  

In his closing comments Wilson noted that the effort by scholars to improve teaching effectiveness “is not easy work.”

“If we really want to make a big difference, we’ve got to take the perspective that teaching has been occurring over thousands of years and ask, How much better is it now than it was in Rome two thousand years ago?” said Wilson. “That’s a sobering thing to think about. If we do eventually make much of a difference with this, then I’ll be very pleased.”  

The video of the event will be available soon on the AERA website.