The University of Iowa College of Education

Education at Iowa

Spring 2004

Table of Contents


Learning Through Helping Others

School Psychology Associate Professor Kit Gerken spends Wednesday afternoons painting Popsicle sticks, reading picture books and playing Candy Land. She and three graduate students are working on a project to test and tutor kindergartners from Iowa City’s lowest income families at the Broadway Neighborhood Center. But they get some play time, too.

"The kids are delightful and a lot of fun,” said Gerken, “and they are very spirited. It’s a challenge."

About a dozen kids regularly attend the after-school program. In addition to spending time with them as a large group, Gerken and her crew work individually with the children to test their academic strengths in areas such as spelling and basic math. After they identify areas that the children are struggling with, Gerken and her graduate students tutor them to help them keep up with school.

“We would like to make sure that the children have a positive learning experience at school and maybe we can give them a boost after school to reinforce what they’ve been learning,” Gerken said.

Sue Freeman, director of the Broadway Neighborhood Center, said Gerken’s project is a great help for the children and the center staff.

“It helps us better construct an intervention process so that we can meet the needs of each individual youth in the program,” she said.

Angelo LaRocco is one of the Ph.D. students involved this year. He said his work at the center is about more than giving tests.

“This also satisfies a personal desire to do something that makes a difference in the lives of kids in my own community,” he said.
Gerken said that’s the point.

“I believe that one of the best ways to learn is through helping others,” she said. “You learn from the experience and at the same time are affecting a positive change.”

This is the pilot year for the program, but Gerken said she hopes it will continue. –by Heather McElvain


Building Blocks for Employment

The maxim, “If at first you don’t succeed,” resonates with School Psychology Associate Professor Kit Gerken. On a warm evening last spring, she welcomed local residents to the inaugural Building Blocks for Employment, a job application-training fair that had been postponed by a late-winter snowstorm.

Undeterred, Gerken and two dozen volunteers rescheduled and set up shop five weeks later in the lobby of a local mall where they offered tips on how to write cover letters, design resumes, find and apply for jobs, and shine in interviews.

" The fair focuses on people who need jobs but may not know how to go about finding, getting, and keeping them,” Gerken says. “We try to encourage people to come by providing free transportation from the neighborhood centers, Spanish and Arabic translators, and a supervised area for children to play while their parents visit the different job-skills stations."

Six of Gerken’s graduate students also participated in the event, which was sponsored by government and nonprofit human service organizations.
Tracy Sims says she learned about the fair from her son’s teacher at Hills Elementary School. Sims, who is raising three children while earning her G.E.D. at Kirkwood Community College, is looking for a full- or part-time evening clerical position.

"I came here to pick up better skills," she said, "and already I’ve learned how to write a cover letter. I’ve heard of them, but didn’t know how to put one together, so this has been great." by Jean Florman

This Is Not A Test: H.D. Hoover’s Retiring

When Al Hieronymus, emeritus professor in educational measurement, hired Hiram “H.D.” Hoover as a graduate assistant in the Iowa Testing Programs (ITP) in 1964, he knew he was in for an experience.

Born and reared in rural Missouri, Hoover clearly relished playing the backcountry youth. People who met him, including the publisher of the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS), weren’t quite sure what to make of Hoover and weren’t entirely sure that someone with such a distinctive Ozarks twang could really work for such a nationally prestigious program.

But Hieronymus, a former farm boy himself, quickly saw through the veneer when Hoover – who was teaching junior high school mathematics in Bloomington, Ill. while taking graduate courses at Hieronymus’ alma mater, Illinois State University – stopped by to talk about the UI College of Education’s Ph.D. program in educational measurement.

“H.D. showed up one day while I was minding the store and said he was interested in testing,” recalled Hieronymus. “We got acquainted and after not too long I offered him an assistantship because I was very much interested in his background in mathematics. I was impressed with his general characteristics: his honesty, his integrity and his disarming manner.”

Emeritus Professor Leonard Feldt, who laughed when asked for his first impressions of Hoover four decades ago, agrees that Hoover was a sight to behold.

“He came up to Iowa out of the depths of Missouri and had all the characteristics of someone who had been born and raised in rural Missouri,” recalls Feldt, Ph.D., professor emeritus and former ITP director. “But for all his external mannerisms, H.D. was born into a family that prized learning and inquiry. His father was a teacher in a one-room school.”

Before long, it became clear to Hieronymus, Feldt and everyone else that Hoover was perfectly suited to the field and in 1987 Hoover was named only the third director (after ITP patriarch E.F. Lindquist and Hieronymus) of the ITBS, a position he will hold until he retires on July 1.

From 2001-2002 he served as president of the National Council on Measurement in Education, the professional organization for people associated with educational testing. And he has become internationally recognized as a plain spoken and deeply knowledgeable supporter of academic testing. He’s often been quoted in national media for stories on standardized and high-stakes testing by The New York Times, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Examiner and PBS.

Hoover has made no secret of his unhappiness over the recent trend to politicize tests, particularly under the controversial No Child Left Behind Act. And he plans to speak out even more on the subject after his

“I think those are the wrong uses,” Hoover says. “They’re short-sighted.”

Hieronymus said that such political pressures forced Hoover to redefine the ITBS director’s role.

“Lindquist and I could concentrate mostly on the building of tests and the use of technology,” Hieronymus said. “We tried to develop the purposes and activities and the qualities of the tests themselves, to further the objectives that we considered so important. H.D. has spent a great deal of his time defending those as best he can. He has done very, very well at representing the university in the national and even international community of educational measurement.”

Hoover says his job as a designer and promoter of the ITBS gave him the best of several worlds: business (through his work on behalf of Riverside Publishing, which prints and markets the ITBS), academia and K-12 schools that actually use the tests Hoover has designed.

“When I was actively directing the Basic Skills Program, I talked with someone in schools every day,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any other department in the college or university with as much day-to-day interaction with school people as the Iowa Testing Programs.”

Hoover has also loved teaching statistics and mentoring students in educational measurement. Unfortunately, Hoover, says, recruiting talented young people to the field of educational measurement continues to be a daunting challenge because there is no natural feeder system in higher education. Another challenge is finding people who can write reliable test questions.

“That’s the single biggest problem facing the testing industry,” Hoover said. “It’s not technology. It’s not test theory. It’s getting good test questions. The only thing there’s an infinite supply of in the field is bad test questions.”

Still, Hoover said he has every confidence the ITBS program is in good hands. He has already shifted most of his responsibilities as ITBS director to Stephen Dunbar, a professor of educational measurement and statistics who co-directs the ITP with professors David Frisbie and Timothy Ansley.

“I’m very optimistic about the future of the ITBS,” Hoover said. “We’ve got great people.”

Having recently overseen the writing of a new edition of the ITBS, Hoover is now turning his attention to what he’ll do during his retirement. He said he’ll remain involved in the program in some capacity as an emeritus professor. But what he’s most excited about right now is a planned trip to visit a son in Switzerland, maybe a little more golf and an exhibit he’s putting together for the UI Museum of Art tentatively titled “The History of Iowa in the Art of Maps.”

The exhibit, slated to go on display in November 2004, will feature world, national and state maps – some several centuries old -- that depict features of Iowa few people would recognize by looking at today’s computer-generated atlases. He said he became interested in maps when his father took the family on long road trips. To keep Hoover and his sister from arguing, his father would give Hoover a stack of maps and have him plan the trip, saying “get us there.”

“I’m a map nut,” Hoover said.

Feldt said he expects that anyone who has ever encountered Hoover will remember his particular brand of enthusiasm with a smile.

“They’ll remember him for his many illustrations that always had a humorous or sports-related angle to them, but most of all they’ll remember him for his competency and his expertise in the field,” Feldt said. “He still has evidences of that rural Missouri upbringing, but I think many people recognize now it masks a real substantial person who has trained many students in the field and who through his own work has gained a great deal of respect.” –by Stephen Pradarelli

Westefeld Concludes Meriwether Lewis Death a Suicide

In 1806, when Meriwether Lewis and colleague William Clark returned from their expedition across the western United States, they were hailed as national heroes.

President Thomas Jefferson, who commissioned the expedition, rewarded Lewis with—among other things—the governorship of the newly acquired Territory of Upper Louisiana.

It should have been the beginning of a happy ending for Lewis. But just three years later, deeply in debt and emotionally exhausted, Lewis died in a roadhouse along the Natchez Trace after being shot twice, once in the forehead and one in the chest.

For nearly two centuries speculation has abounded as to whether Lewis was murdered—perhaps by a band of brigands—or whether he died at his own hand. While most historians subscribe to, and have written extensively about, the theory that Lewis committed suicide (Jefferson said as much in public comments) until now there has been little assessment within an explicitly psychological framework of the facts leading up to his death.

This summer, in the year marking the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition, University of Iowa counseling psychology professor John S. Westefeld and graduate student Aaron Less have produced "Meriwether Lewis: Was it Suicide?", which seeks to shed further light on the tragedy.

Their conclusion? Lewis very likely committed suicide.

The article has been accepted for publication next year in "Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior," the official journal of the American Association of Suicidology.

Westefeld, Ph.D., a professor in the UI College of Education's Department of Psychological and Quantitative Foundations, used a risk factor model for suicide assessment developed by Heriberto Sanchez. Westefeld and Less found that the preponderance of evidence—including Lewis' previous attempts to take his own life—indicates that Lewis was susceptible to suicide.

Westefeld, who has studied suicide previously, especially among college students, says in his study—citing other sources—that Lewis, born in Virginia in 1774, was a man of contradictions.

"On the one hand, he was good in a crisis, wilderness-wise, energetic, a leader, self-disciplined, and he worked closely with his men," Westefeld writes. "On the other hand, he had a quick temper, was impetuous at times, a poor politician and a person who in reality did not view the expedition as a success by the time he died. Near the end of his life, he also sunk into extreme debt."

The assessment checklist used by Westefeld and developed by Sanchez addresses five areas relevant to suicidal tendencies: historical risk factors (such as substance abuse, major medical problems and past suicidal behaviors); personal risk factors (personality, cognitive style and coping patterns); psychosocial-environmental risk factors (life events and environmental difficulties that negatively impact an individual's well being and ability to cope); clinical risk factors (behaviors that suggest planning for suicide, as well as dramatic changes in mood and mental state) and protective factors (aspects of a person's life that lower the risk of suicide, such as a social support system or marriage).

One of the most notable factors that led Westefeld and Less to their conclusion was Lewis' suicidal tendencies. In 1809, after assuming the governorship and after a series of financial problems, Lewis headed to Washington to ask for assistance. By the time he had reached Fort Pickering (now Memphis, Tenn.), Lewis had reportedly attempted twice to take his own life and was described by witnesses at the time as "in very bad health" and, even, "deranged."

Lewis left Fort Pickering with James Neeley, a Native American agent, as well as Lewis' servant John Pernier and a second scout. On Oct. 9, 1809, the party stopped at Grinder's Stand for lodging. That night there was the sound of firearms, and Lewis was found dead. (Some supporters of the suicide theory suggest that the initial gunshot to the head merely grazed Lewis' skull and that he was forced to pick up another weapon and shoot himself again, in the chest, delivering what would be the fatal shot.)

While his psychological assessment of Lewis points strongly to suicide, Westefeld says he still can't rule out murder as a possibility. Grinder's Stand was located along the Natchez Trace, a passageway that some historians say was home to bandits and outlaws who frequently committed robbery and violence. And money was reported missing from Lewis' trunk.

"Although it is easy to think of Lewis in tragic terms, his life and death can be seen in another way," Westefeld says in the conclusion of this paper. "When Thomas Jefferson described him as a man of 'courage undaunted,' he was likely referring to Lewis' bravery throughout the expedition. That he accomplished what he did while most probably struggling with undiagnosed and untreated mental illness indicates a level of courage of which even Jefferson was unaware." – by Stephen Pradarelli

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