GSE Alumnus Wins Outstanding Dissertation Award at AERA 2018

June 08, 2018

GSE alumnus Wenchao Ma, Ph.D ’18, was recently awarded the prestigious 2018 AERA Division D Outstanding Dissertation Award on his dissertation titled “A Sequential Cognitive Diagnosis Model for Graded Response: Model Development, Q-Matrix Validation, and Model Comparison.” Ma holds a Ph.D. in Educational Statistics and Measurement (ESM).

His line of research is inspired by his interests in improving classroom teaching and learning based on rich and fast feedback obtained from educational assessments using cognitive diagnosis models – a class of advanced psychometric models. “Standardized educational assessments based on modern psychometric theory have been very successful in ranking students, but remain challenging in providing informative feedback to facilitate learning,” stated Ma.

In his dissertation, Ma developed a general cognitive diagnosis model for polytomously scored questions, such as constructed-response items and performance tasks. In addition, he also proposed two procedures to examine which skills are needed for undertaking each task successfully and whether the general model can be further simplified. Taken together, the dissertation provides a set of psychometric tools that could advance the use of constructed-response items and performance tasks for diagnostic purposes. Ma envisions that in the future he will extend the proposed model to accommodate multiple strategies and explore how automated scoring could be used to expedite the scoring process.

Ma has already had an impact in his early career. He was previously awarded the Bradley Hanson Award for Contributions to Educational Measurement by the NCME in 2017 with Dr. Jimmy de la Torre, former GSE professor and current professor at The University of Hong Kong, for their work on the development of an R package for cognitive diagnosis modeling.

“I didn’t expect to have such an impact this early in my career, but I’m pleased my work has been recognized,” stated Ma. “Although there are a lot of diagnostic models in literature, only a few software programs are available. Therefore, we decided to develop a powerful and flexible software program for cognitive diagnosis analyses. This project will make these advanced models accessible to both researchers and practitioners.” 

The GSE has played a significant role in helping Ma achieve success. He chose the GSE for his Ph.D. because of the strong program in Educational Statistics and Measurement. The GSE offered Ma a three-year fellowship. “This was very important to me because expenses can be overwhelming when continuing one’s education,” said Ma. “I was honored that Rutgers GSE offered me a fellowship. I could focus on my studies and didn’t have to worry about money.” The GSE also provided travel support. “I went to AERA and NCME conferences every year, learned from other scholars and networked.”

Ma worked on several research projects closely with Dr. de la Torre. He also worked with GSE Professor Dr. Chia-Yi Chiu during his freshman year.  “They are very detail-oriented and have really high standards about our research. I believe that is what a researcher should be like and they have been great role models,” Ma remarked.

As he reflects on his life and career goals, Ma says, “Without Rutgers GSE, I would not have these accomplishments. I am really grateful to have started here and I can’t wait to see where this journey will take me.”

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