Lehigh prof comes up ACES; develops tooll to assess student potential

March 06, 2001

Lehigh University professor's academic assessment tool adopted for use in Hawaii

System identifies factors that lead to classroom success


It is estimated that one out of five American students are at risk of failing in school. To help identify these students and steer them toward success, a Lehigh University professor has developed an academic assessment tool that is so highly regarded that it is being adopted for statewide use in Hawaii.

James DiPerna, assistant professor in Lehigh's College of Education, has developed ACES, or Academic Competence Evaluation Scales, to help teachers evaluate the skills of their students. ACES enables a teacher to assess academic skills like reading, language arts, mathematics, and critical thinking, but it also identifies four academic enablers: interpersonal skills, engagement, motivation and study skills.

· Interpersonal skills involve the ability to follow rules, correct inappropriate behavior, and express dissatisfaction appropriately.
· Engagement includes behavior like speaking when called upon, asking questions about tests and projects and participating in class discussion.
· Motivation refers to the desire for challenging tasks, the production of high quality work and the ability of a student to critically evaluate his or her own work.
· Study Skills involve the completion of homework assignments, the ability to correct one's own work and preparation for class and tests.

Students at-risk may lack proficiency in academic skills, academic enablers, or both, says DiPerna, the key is being able to identify the specific problem and intervene as early as possible. His system brings the disparate pieces of the ss puzzle for academic success together into one model.

Using the ACES system, teachers can, in 15 minutes, evaluate a student's academic and enabler skills. ACES has been administered on a trial basis to about 2,750 students and teachers and is being adopted by the state of Hawaii, with other states considering adopting its use.

Teachers of kindergarten through 12th grade can use the system, and students in grades 6 through 12 can complete a self-assessment. Numerical values assigned to all answers produce scores that guide a team of educators and support personnel in developing a suitable intervention plan.

"ACES provides answers that quickly focus on the problem and allow a school psychologist work with the teacher an intervention strategy and monitor its effectiveness," DiPerna says. "The team can set measurable goals and chart the student's progress toward them with input from students, parents and teachers."

DiPerna developed the ACES with Stephen N. Elliott, professor of school psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The tool is being marketed to schools throughout the country by The Psychological Corporation. DiPerna and Elliott have developed a companion intervention guidebook for the ACES - the Academic Intervention Monitoring System or AIMS -- to assist educators with developing interventions for academic skill and enabler problems. In addition, they recently published a version of the ACES for college students.

"The initial response from the education community has been favorable," DiPerna says. "Since the reauthorization of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1997, there has been a push toward using classroom-based interventions before a child needs to be placed into special education. The ACES is timely because it helps educators do exactly that."
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Lehigh University

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