Bell named next director of Wisconsin Center for Education Research

January 6, 2020   |   By UW-Madison School of Education

From UW-Madison School of Education

Courtney Bell will become the next director of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER), UW–Madison School of Education Dean Diana Hess announced Monday.

Bell, who is currently a principal research scientist with Educational Testing Service (ETS), the world’s largest private, nonprofit educational testing and assessment organization, will begin her new position July 1.

“I am thrilled that Dr. Bell will be joining the School of Education as director of WCER,” says School of Education Dean Diana Hess. “She is an extraordinary educational leader and researcher. Her background as a high school teacher, a faculty member, a leader of complex and innovative research teams and projects, and principal researcher with ETS uniquely prepares her to be an excellent leader of WCER. I look forward to working with her.”

Bell has worked at ETS since 2008, when she was hired as an associate research scientist within the Research and Development Division’s Teaching and Learning Research Group. Over the past decade, Bell has taken on increasing responsibilities within ETS, and since 2018 has served as a principal research scientist with the Research and Development Division’s Global Assessment Center. ETS houses a team of education experts, researchers, and assessment developers dedicated to advancing quality and equity in education across the world.

“Through research and innovation, WCER colleagues are working every day to improve our understanding of education for the next generation of citizens. I am honored to have the opportunity to work alongside such committed and gifted colleagues,” says Bell. “I am especially excited to continue the collaborative, interdisciplinary work I have always enjoyed with colleagues in the School of Education and the broader community.”

Bell has played a leading role in several significant, externally funded national and international research projects focused on teacher evaluation, the measurement of teaching, and its relationship to student growth and development. She notes that, by design, most of these multi-million-dollar projects have been cross-disciplinary and collaborative.

As a senior researcher within a larger organization, Bell has been a primary generator of new knowledge and has taken the lead in applying that expertise and capability to existing and new ETS products and services. This leadership work has included setting substantive research and development goals, priorities, and policies for ETS, in addition to policy, planning, and management of work with external clients.

Bell has led the internal research agenda for the study of teaching at ETS, with input from senior management, for more than six years. She also co-led the conceptualization, launch, and development of the Understanding Teaching Quality Center, which supports research and development related to measuring various aspects of teaching. She directed the center from 2014-16, which included supervisory responsibilities for research scientists, administrative staff, project managers, and research associates.

Bell received her Ph.D. in curriculum, teaching, and educational policy from Michigan State University after previously earning secondary chemistry teaching certification from East Carolina University and an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Dartmouth College. She started her education career as a high school science teacher in North Carolina in 1996 before holding several teaching and research positions at Columbia University, Michigan State, and the University of Connecticut over the next decade.

With more than 500 faculty, academic staff, and students, plus annual expenditures of more than $80 million, WCER is one of the oldest, largest, and most influential university-based education research centers in the United States. Housed within the School of Education and founded in 1964, WCER’s research and dissemination activities are diverse and international in scope, with funding from a variety of federal agencies, private foundations, and public service agencies.

The center is home to about 120 grant-funded projects and also includes a significant fee-for-service portfolio that includes WIDA, a global leader in assessments, standards, and training for educators of multilingual learners.

“WCER has a long and distinguished history of research and innovation that improves educational outcomes for all young people,” says Bell. “It’s an exciting place for me to continue to learn and work to improve education.”

Reporting to the dean of the School of Education, Bell is being called upon to provide exceptional organizational leadership that encourages innovation, provides first-rate service to researchers in the center, and supports the growth of both the research and fee-for-service missions of the center. Bell is also being tasked with ensuring that WCER continues to provide undergraduate and graduate students with meaningful opportunities to hone their research skills.

Bell was selected to lead WCER following a national search that brought three finalists to campus in December to participate in public forums and meet with faculty, staff, and School of Education leadership. The finalists were selected by a 13-member search-and-screen committee co-chaired by WIDA Executive Director Tim Boals and Percival Matthews, an associate professor with the Department of Educational Psychology and a WCER researcher.