NSF CAREER Grant to Ying Alison Cheng

May 21, 2014William Schmitt

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Prestigious $600,000 Award Recognizes Cheng, a Fellow of the Institute for Educational Initiatives, as Top Teacher-Scholar Bringing New Insights to the Field of Educational Assessment and Standardized Testing

Ying “Alison” Cheng, associate professor in the Department of Psychology and a faculty fellow in Notre Dame’s Institute for Educational Initiatives, has received a $600,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER grant to support her high-impact research in the area of educational assessment and computerized-adaptive testing.

The five-year grant was awarded through the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program, which oversees the Foundation’s most prestigious awards supporting junior faculty. Recipients must exemplify the role of teacher-scholars, conducting outstanding research and integrating it with excellent teaching, all tied to their institution’s mission.

Cheng, a quantitative psychologist who studies educational and psychological measurement, especially how to develop and refine algorithms for large-scale computerized-adaptive testing programs such as the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), will receive the five-year CAREER grant support over a five-year period to develop an adaptive testing platform for AP Statistics that offers cognitive diagnostic feedback.


This award affirms Cheng’s wide-ranging contributions to her department, the University, and the Institute. In an additional affirmation, Notre Dame recently granted Cheng academic tenure.

Her research has been recognized as important for improving the precision and value of large-scale standardized tests at the state and national level. CTB/McGraw Hill, a leader in educational assessment tools, awarded research and development grants to Cheng in 2010 and 2011 for her work with Notre Dame Psychology Professor Ke-Hai Yuan, and Cheng was the featured speaker at the 2011 Meeting of the International Association of Computerized-Adaptive Testing, hosted by CTB/McGraw-Hill.

Receipt of the CAREER grant “is an enormous accomplishment,” said Rev. Timothy Scully, C.S.C., Hackett Family Director of the Institute for Educational Initiatives. He congratulated Cheng as an exemplar of the role of teacher-scholar through her work in educational assessment.  Cheng’s service to Notre Dame has included teaching undergraduate and graduate students in fields such as statistics, psychological measurement, and test development.

The Institute also particularly thanked Karen Morris, its program director for the Advanced Placement Training and Incentive Program for Indiana (AP-TIP IN), who made teachers and students available to Cheng for her research. “I would like to thank Karen for her great and collegial partnership, which was essential to the successful grant application,” said Father Scully in his CAREER grant announcement to the Institute’s interdisciplinary group of more than 60 faculty fellows.

The Department of Psychology now has three faculty members who have received the prestigious CAREER grants, noted Daniel Lapsley, chair of the department as well as coordinator of academic programs for the Institute’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE).

Besides Cheng, one of the department’s distinguished grant recipients is Nicole McNeil, another Institute fellow. Her nationally recognized work as an experimental psychologist is helping to influence the learning environments in which children learn key math concepts. She holds the position of ACE Associate Professor of Psychology.