Julie Alonzo, Research Associate Professor & Behavioral Research & Teaching Co-Director
Julie Alonzo-Video Interview
Julie Alonzo earned her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership with a specialization in Learning Assessment / Systems Performance at the University of Oregon in 2007. She earned her B.A. in English from Carleton College in 1990, her NBPTS Certification in Adolescent and Young Adult English Language Arts in 2002, and worked as a high school teacher for 12 years prior to beginning her doctoral studies.
In 2002, she was named a Stafford Student Scholar representing the University of Oregon as a member of The National Institute on Leadership, Disability and Students Placed at Risk. Julie's primary research interests include teacher professional development and the meaningful inclusion of students with diverse learning needs.
With a $1.5 million research grant from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) launching in August of 2016, Dr. Julie Alonzo, Co-Director of BRT, is excited about the future.
“The funding for Project DATA for RTI,” she explains, “came at the perfect time, exactly one decade after we received the initial funding that enabled us to develop the easyCBM system. The initial work, funded by the Office of Special Education Programs, gave us the seed money to work with a great team of K-5 educators to design the original system, including building the basic reports and functionality. Three additional grants from IES in the past ten years provided the opportunity to develop, refine, and expand the types of assessments the system provides as well as the grade levels it covers. Now, we are moving into the study of how best to support teachers in their use of the data, all with the goal of helping students succeed academically.”
“This new grant will enable us to test out different approaches to providing professional development to teachers to help them harness the power of RTI data. One of our basic premises is that the key to helping students meet academic expectations is to ensure that they are being taught in a way that meets their needs. Teachers need to be able to track the impact of their instruction, making adjustments in curriculum, strategies, grouping, and intensity as needed until they reach that ‘ah-ha moment’ when it all starts falling into place. Project Data for RTI gives us four years in which to develop and validate not only the content of professional development units, but also the way it is delivered to teachers, all with the goal supporting teachers in their daily work.”
Dr. Alonzo has been intimately involved with the easyCBM project since its earliest conception. “The idea for the original proposal came from JT [Dr. Gerald Tindal, Director of BRT], based on his experiences with CBMs and his own graduate student days at the University of Minnesota, and when we received funding to become one of three Model Demonstration Centers for Response to Intervention in the nation, I couldn’t wait to get started. I was a doctoral student at the time, and the project gave me the opportunity to integrate my previous work experience as a high school teacher and sometimes administrator with my Ph.D. coursework in statistics, measurement, and assessment.”
“That first year of funding for easyCBM was both exciting and exhausting. We received funding in January and needed to have the system fully functional by September. To achieve that goal, Dr. Alonzo and her research team spent countless evenings and weekends brainstorming and then developing the basic web-based interface, writing and reviewing assessment items, organizing field testing and item piloting, analyzing data, and then creating the multiple alternate forms of the K-5 literacy assessments. We started off with seven types of measures: Letter Names Fluency, Letter Sounds Fluency, Phoneme Segmenting, Word Reading Fluency, Sentence Reading Fluency, Passage Reading Fluency, and Multiple Choice Reading Comprehension. After we analyzed the data, we decided to drop the Sentence Reading Fluency measure but keep all the others. Although it required many late nights that first summer, we somehow managed to get it all done by our September deadline.”
Of course, it didn’t take long for people to request expansion of the system. “By the time we had the K-5 reading measures finished, we were already fielding requests for math measures, and for measures that could be used with older students,” Dr. Alonzo explains. Subsequent IES grants enabled BRT to meet these requests, and adoption of easyCBM continued at a remarkable pace.
“Within a few years, it became clear that demand for the system was not slowing down. We began to branch the code so that it could better meet the different demands being placed on it. We kept our original design (the easyCBM Lite Edition) available free of charge for individual teacher use, and also began offering a District version with additional features that were designed specifically to help with district-wide adoption. We continued to add new features, such as Spanish language supports, both written and audio, for all mathematics items, new assessment types (such as vocabulary, Common Core State Standards aligned reading and mathematics tests, and Spanish language literacy), working with HMH-Riverside Publishing to distribute the District version. In fall of 2015, we added the ability for teachers to purchase a new subscription-based Teacher Deluxe version that includes all of the new assessment types and enhanced features found in the District version but is specifically designed for individual teachers rather than systems-wide adoption.”
“It’s really rewarding to work on a project that is making a positive difference in the lives of students and teachers,” she continues. Not surprisingly, Dr. Alonzo’s work on easyCBM draws heavily from her prior experience as a public school teacher. “Before I came to the University of Oregon to begin my doctoral program,” she explains, “I spent twelve wonderful years working as a public school teacher in three very different school districts in California: Mt. Pleasant High School in San Jose’s East Side Union School District, Anzar High School in the Aromas-San Juan School District, and Los Gatos High School. I love teaching, and my passion has always been finding ways to unlock each student’s potential, seeking ways to help each person learn to soar and achieve their dreams.”
The pursuit of her own dreams has led Dr. Alonzo far beyond the walls of the Academy. In addition to her professional life as a research professor, Dr. Alonzo has taken a lead role in several equestrian pursuits. A lifelong horsewoman, she served as the elected President of the International Andalusian and Lusitano Horse Association for six years and continues to serve on the Board of Directors in the role of National Show Chair. In addition, she has played a significant role in the development and leadership of the non-profit WE United, an organization responsible for running the sport of Working Equitation in the United States. Her own horses have garnered national recognition, winning numerous National Championship titles both in the United States and Canada.
“When I earned my Ph.D. in Educational Leadership with a specialization in Learning Assessment / Systems Performance back in 2007,” she explains, “I knew the program was giving me the knowledge and skills needed to build sensitive assessments and analyze data. What I didn’t realize until a few years later was that my degree was also giving me a great foundation for serving in a variety of leadership roles. That foundation has helped me in my role as co-Director of BRT, and it has also been instrumental in giving me insights into ways in which we can help facilitate school-wide improvement efforts and support the growth and health of non-profit organizations as well.”