Founding Cronkite School dean named next president of University of the Pacific


November 21, 2019

Christopher Callahan, who led the transformation of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University into one of the nation’s top programs, was announced today as the next president of University of the Pacific, the oldest chartered institution of higher education in California.

Callahan will start July 1, 2020. He joined ASU as the Cronkite School’s founding dean in 2005. Callahan also serves as vice provost of Arizona State’s Downtown Phoenix campus and CEO of Arizona PBS, one of the nation’s largest public television stations with a focus on public service and lifelong learning. Portrait of Cronkite dean Christopher Callahan led the transformation of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication into one of the nation’s top programs.

Callahan made his mark as a leader and innovator, bringing energy and passion to the Cronkite School and ASU’s 13,000-student downtown campus. During his time, he led Cronkite efforts that dramatically increased student enrollment, retention, diversity, graduation rates and recruitment of out-of-state students.

His leadership more than tripled the size of the faculty through philanthropy, entrepreneurial partnerships and strategic initiatives; championed a teaching design of immersive experiential learning and community service; and led the creation of new degree programs on the undergraduate, master’s degree and PhD levels. He forged learning and research partnerships with major corporations and nonprofits nationally and raised more than $100 million.

“Chris Callahan is a great architect of the future through his design creativity in complex academic settings,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “He has designed and built the nation’s finest journalism school in an era of great social complexity and made significant national contributions through these efforts.”

A signature of the Cronkite School under Callahan’s leadership is the “news teaching hospital” model to educate students using experience-based immersive learning that also serves communities. The Cronkite School’s 15 professional programs dramatically accelerate student learning.

Students might spend one semester producing digital content for Cronkite News – Phoenix and another in Washington, D.C., covering national news for Arizona audiences. Or they might work in the Digital Audiences Lab one semester and take their new audience engagement skills into the Public Relations Lab, where they develop campaigns for clients from startups to Fortune 500 companies.

Callahan also helped grow the Cronkite School through partnerships with some of the biggest names in journalism and communications. The Scripps Howard Foundation, for example, invested $3 million to establish a Howard Center for Investigative Journalism, which opened this fall.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has invested more than $10 million on a series of innovative programs, including Carnegie-Knight News21 and the Knight-Cronkite Local TV News Innovation Initiative.

Other partnerships with the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, the Hearst Foundations, the Ford Foundation, the Dow Jones News Fund, Google and many more helped create new programs, offerings, centers, faculty positions and opportunities for Cronkite students.

PBS NewsHour West launched this fall — a new West Coast feed updated and reported inside the Cronkite School to better serve the West, with Stephanie Sy and Richard Coolidge leading the team. The move creates the only national newscast inside a journalism school, and it will create expanded opportunities for students.

Indian Country Today arrived at the Cronkite School this summer, bringing a leading voice for news coverage of Indian Country. The digital media outlet promptly made history, becoming the first tribal media organization to host a presidential candidate.

And Cronkite students simply continue to dominate journalism competitions:

  • The Carnegie-Knight News21 investigative reporting project at the Cronkite School won the 2019 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for “Hate in America.” It was the fourth time a Cronkite School project won the prestigious national RFK award, the most of any university in the country.
  • News21 won the Student Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Digital Reporting for a third consecutive year.
  • News21 has won seven EPPY Awards in eight years from Editor & Publisher magazine.
  • Cronkite finished second in the Hearst Journalism Awards and finished in the top six in all four award categories. Cronkite has finished in the top 10 in the Hearst awards for 17 consecutive years.
  • Recent Cronkite graduates hold prominent roles at The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, The Guardian, ESPN and more.

“Chris has exceeded all expectations as the founding dean of the Walter Cronkite School. He has left a legacy of excellence among students and faculty and a school known for the diversity of its people and ideas,” said ASU Executive Vice President and University Provost Mark Searle.

Before joining ASU, Callahan served in faculty and leadership positions at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Early in his career, he was a correspondent for The Associated Press in Washington, D.C.

“It has been an honor and privilege to serve the students, faculty, staff, alumni, board members and supporters of the Cronkite School,” Callahan said Thursday. “Cronkite truly has become the journalism school for the New American University. 

“The last 15 years have been truly amazing, but I am supremely confident that the next 15 years will be even brighter.”

Callahan will be joined at Pacific by his wife, Jean, a human resources executive. The couple will reside in the President’s Residence on the Stockton campus.

Director of communications, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Arizona PBS

New statistical model improves the predictive power of standardized test scores

Validated dynamic measurement model captures student learning potential three times better than existing assessment methods


November 21, 2019

College admissions ask a lot: a standout essay, a high grade point average and stellar standardized test scores.

And the ongoing college admission scandal underscores how influential standardized test scores have become. A test administrator is now cooperating with the investigation into other parents who paid to have their children’s test scores fixed. Daniel McNeish, assistant professor of psychology at ASU and first author on the paper. Photo by Robert Ewing Download Full Image

College admissions decisions use standardized test scores as a predictor of how well an applicant will do in college. But what if there were a better way to predict learning — one that did not rely on a single, high-stakes test?

Researchers from Arizona State University and the University of Denver have devised a way to predict academic performance that is three times more predictive than a single standardized assessment. The research team developed and validated a statistical model that uses readily available test scores to predict future academic performance. The study was published in Multivariate Behavioral Research on Nov. 21.

“Everyone is affected by testing at some point — tests are used to make high-stakes decisions about admissions to schools and sometimes even job placement — and the model we developed captures what is going on in the data and predicts future performance better than existing methods,” said Daniel McNeish, assistant professor of psychology at ASU and first author on the paper.

Current ability does not always predict future learning

The stated purpose of many standardized tests is a one-time assessment, not to inform long-term performance. These tests are sometimes used to predict the future performance of anyone who takes the test, but few tests actually do this well, said Denis Dumas, an assistant professor at the University of Denver and second author on the paper. The idea that a single test can fail to adequately measure a student’s future learning potential is not a new one: The sociologist, historian and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois raised it almost a century ago.

“Test scores from a single time point give a good snapshot of what someone knows at the time of testing, but they often are incapable of providing information about the potential to learn,” Dumas added. “Test scores are frequently used to indicate how much a person might benefit from future education, like attending college, but this concept is completely different from how much the test taker knows right now.”

To develop the model, the research team took inspiration from the work of an Israeli psychologist named Reuven Feuerstein who tested children survivors of the Holocaust for school and grade-level placement. Grade-level assignments based on one test score were often too low, so Feuerstein developed a testing system called dynamic assessment that used several test scores collected over time to measure children’s capacity to learn, instead of their current level of knowledge. Dynamic assessment is labor-intensive and is difficult to implement on a large scale. The research team solved that problem by leveraging advances in mathematical models and computing power to create a new method, which they call a dynamic measurement model.

Connecting the dots

The dynamic measurement model uses a series of test scores to predict future learning capacity. The model fits a curve through the test scores over time, which usually looks like a sideways letter “J” and is often called a “learning curve.” The points on the learning curve represent the amount of current knowledge, and the maximum or ceiling of the curve is the learning potential. Using standardized test scores from kindergarten through eighth grade, the team recently showed the dynamic measurement model could fit the learning curve and predict learning potential.

The research team wanted to know how far out the model could predict learning potential and thus how accurate it actually was. They used three datasets that originated from the Institute of Human Development at the University of California, Berkeley. The datasets include test scores from participants starting when they were 3 years old in the 1920s and 1930s. The participants were studied for decades, until they were in their 50s, 60s, and 70s.

Because most standardized testing happens in school, the research team used the dynamic measurement model to fit the test scores from when the UC Berkeley participants were age 20 and younger. The team predicted the future learning potential of each participant by having the model finish the curve. Then, they compared the actual test scores at ages 50 to 70 years to what the model predicted.

“The dynamic measurement model captured three times the variance as other methods, including single time-point test scores. In other words, our model predicted the later scores — an individual’s realized learning potential — three times better,” McNeish said. “Students are tested so frequently now to gauge their progress, but having multiple scores per student can serve a purpose beyond gauging progress. They can be combined into a single learning potential score to improve predictions of where people’s skills and abilities are predicted to end up in the future if they maintain the same trajectory.”

Harnessing the potential of standardized testing

Using dynamic measurement modeling to predict the future learning potential of students does not require changes in policy or new tests. The test scores needed for the model already exist and are available because of the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act and Every Student Succeeds Act.

“Dynamic measurement modeling does not require a specialized computer to run and does not take much longer than standard statistical models used in this area,” McNeish said. “Logistically, all the pieces are there to implement it tomorrow.”

The research team is currently working on developing software to disseminate the dynamic measurement model.

ASU’s Kevin Grimm, professor of psychology, also contributed to this study.

Science writer, Psychology Department

480-965-7598