ETS Researcher Maria Martiniello Receives Exemplary Dissertation Award from the Spencer Foundation
- Tom Ewing
- Tom Ewing
Princeton, N.J. (March 30, 2009) —
Maria Martiniello, Associate Research Scientist in ETS’s Center for Validity Research, has been chosen to receive a 2009 Exemplary Dissertation Award from the Spencer Foundation for her dissertation on the validity and fairness of content-area assessments for English Language Learners (ELLs). Through this award, the Spencer Foundation provides clear examples of exemplary scholarly work by new members of the education research community.
Martiniello’s dissertation is titled, Linguistic Complexity and Differential Item Functioning (DIF) for English Language Learners (ELL) in Math Word Problems (Harvard University). In it she examines non-mathematical linguistic complexity as a source of differential performance for ELLs in a fourth-grade state mathematics test.
The dissertation comprises three papers. The first describes the relationship between linguistic complexity, non-linguistic representations and DIF measures. “The greater an item’s non-mathematical lexical and syntactic complexity, the greater the differences in item difficulty favoring non-ELLs over ELLs with equivalent math proficiency,” Martiniello explains. “However, the impact of linguistic complexity is attenuated when items provide non-linguistic representations that help ELLs make meaning of the text.”
In paper two, Martiniello analyzes textual and children’s responses to think-aloud protocols, illustrating linguistic characteristics of math word problems that pose disproportionate difficulty for ELLs. “Among the features are complex sentences with long noun phrases, unfamiliar vocabulary, polysemous words, and cultural references,” she adds.
The third paper examines the limitations of current approaches for detecting DIF in the fairness evaluation of mathematics assessments for ELLs. “I propose an alternative approach, a designated anchor test comprised of linguistically simple items, and then comparing DIF indices obtained through the various approaches,” Martiniello concludes.
Adds Ida Lawrence, Senior Vice President of ETS’s Research and Development Division, “This work has important implications for the development and fairness evaluation of assessments of ELLs’ content knowledge. The work is absolutely central in helping ETS to meet its mission to develop fair and valid assessments for all test takers.”
About the Spencer Foundation
The Spencer Foundation was established in 1962 by Lyle M. Spencer. The Foundation received its major endowment upon Spencer's death in 1968 and began formal grant making in 1971. Since that time, the Foundation has made grants totaling approximately $250 million. From the first, the Foundation has been dedicated to the belief that research is necessary to the improvement in education. The Foundation is thus committed to supporting high-quality investigation of education through its research programs and to strengthening and renewing the educational research community through its fellowship and training programs and related activities.
At nonprofit ETS, we advance quality and equity in education for people worldwide by creating assessments based on rigorous research. ETS serves individuals, educational institutions, businesses and government agencies by providing solutions for teacher certification, English language learning, and elementary, secondary and post-secondary education, as well as conducting education research, analysis and policy studies. Founded in 1947, ETS develops, administers and scores more than 50 million tests annually — including the TOEFL® and TOEIC® tests, the GRE® test and The Praxis Series™ assessments — in more than 180 countries, at over 9,000 locations worldwide.
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