Articles & media


Zak Stein on hierarchical complexity 2021
On metrics and Virtuous Cycles of Learning: A conversation with Dr. Theo Dawson—2022
Phronesis: Practical Wisdom for Leaders—2022
four presidents
How learning really works
Voices from the middle: Episode 14

Dr. Dawson discusses VUCA, learning, VCoL, & Role fit with Michael Friedman.


Dr. Dawson is a regular contributor on Medium. Here are a few of her most recent posts:

How learning works
Skill maps & skill mapping
  • Clarity skills unpacked
  • VCoL in action: skill mapping
  • VCoL in action: Take skill mapping to the next level
  • Micro-VCoL Maker
VUCA skills maps
Decision making
Complexity series
National leaders
four presidents
Statistics for all!

Selected refereed publications

Dempsey, B. G. (2024). Measuring hierarchical complexity in the Pentateuch. SSRN.

Dempsey subjected the text of the Pentateuch to CLAS (the Comouterized Lectical Assessment System) to determine its level of hierarchical complexity and demonstrate appreciable differences in the complexity levels of its hypothetical sources (J, E, D, and P). Findings show that the semantic complexity of D and P are appreciably higher than J and E. Perhaps more significantly, there is a meaningful complexity difference between J and E (with J higher than E). Overall, complexity increases in the order E, J, P, D. Such data support sociolinguistic conclusions in line with Neo-Documentary claims, while perhaps favoring a pre-exilic date for P.

Thornton, A. (2023). Facing the Complexity Gap: Developing Leaders’ Reasoning Skills to Meet the Complex Task Demands of their Roles. Unpublished Doctoral Thesis, The University of Western Australia.

Dawson, T. L. (2020). Rethinking educational assessment in light of a strong theory of development. In T. R. Biddell & M. F. Mascolo (Eds.), Handbook of Integrative Developmental Psychology (pp. 423-450). Abingdon, Oxon, UK: Taylor & Francis Routledge.

Would it be possible to build a scalable and ethically defensible technology for delivering standardized educational assessments that (1) help preserve our children’s inborn love of learning, (2) measure and support deep understanding, and (3) build essential skills forthinking, communicating, interacting, and lifelong learning?

Dawson, T. L. (2018). The DiscoTest Initiative: Evolution & rationale. Northampton, MA: Lectica, Inc.

LaRusso, M., Kim, H. Y., Selman, R., Uccelli, P., Dawson, T., Jones, S., . . . Snow, C. (2016). Contributions of Academic Language, Perspective Taking, and Complex Reasoning to Deep Reading Comprehension. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 9(2), 201-222. 

Three skill domains not frequently attended to in instruction or in theories of reading comprehension—academic language, perspective taking, and complex reasoning (LRJA)—predict outcomes on an assessment of deep reading comprehension.

Fuhs, C. J. (2015). A latent growth analysis of hierarchical complexity and perspectival skills in adulthood. Santa Barbara, CA, Fielding Graduate University.

Heikkinen, K. M. (2014). The Development of Social Perspective Coordination Skills in Grades 3-12. Graduate School of Education. Cambridge, MA, Harvard. Ph.D.: 208.

In the United States today, there is a widespread demand for curricula and assessments that reflect research on how students learn. One such type of research is on learning sequences, which are descriptions of the increasingly adequate conceptions that students adopt as they learn. Developmental maieutics (Dawson & Stein, 2008) is a set of research methods that are employed to produce learning sequences. At its core is a domain-general scoring system—the Lectical® Assessment System—that makes it possible to assess the developmental level of performances in any knowledge domain. With developmental maieutics, researchers produce learning sequences that are comparable across multiple topics, because they are all calibrated to the same scale—the skill scale (or Lectical scale). These sequences reveal how learners think at different developmental levels and how they construct new concepts by building upon foundational concepts from the prior level.In this study, I apply developmental maieutics in the domain of social perspective coordination (for the first time in this age range), using data from 149 interviews conducted with students in grades 3-9 and 343 written essays collected from students in grades 6-12. I build learning sequences for perspective coordination concepts, allowing me to address the research question: “what are the pathways through which social perspective coordination skills develop?” In particular, I examine two themes: (1) how children understand why people disagree about violent television (How can some scientists think that violent TV is bad for children and some think it’s okay? How can some parents want to pass a law banning violent TV in schools while some do not?); and (2) how children understand the impact of violent TV on children’s behavior (What happens to children when they watch violent TV? Why do some kids copy what they see and some kids do not? Is TV a bad influence?).Potter, P. (2016). Becoming a coach: Transformative learning and hierarchical complexity of coaching students. Santa Barbara, Fielding Graduate University.

In this preliminary pre-post pilot study of 10 particiants in a transformative coaching program, an inverse relationship was found between particioants' reports of personal transformation and measures of Lectical development.

Stein, Z. (2014). Tipping the scales: Social justice and educational measurement. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Cambridge, MA, Harvard. Ed.D.: 288.

Stein addresses foundational concerns at the interface of educational measurement and social justice. Following John Rawls’s philosophical methods, he builds and justifies an ethical framework for guiding practices involving educational measurement. This framework demonstrates that educational measurement is critical to insuring, or inhibiting, just educational arrangements. It also clarifies a principled distinction between efficiency-oriented testing and justice-oriented testing. 

Van Rossum, Z. (2013). The development of social perspective-taking and leadership decision-making in city government managers. Teachers College. New York, Columbia University. Ed.D.: 285.

Fischer, K. W., Dawson, T., & Schnepps, M. (2011). Plasticity in learning pathways: Assessments that capture and facilitate learning. In A. M. Battro, S. Dehaene & W. J. Singer (Eds.), Human neuroplasticity and education: Proceedings of the working group (pp. 100-117). Vatican City: Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

Schools have huge transformative effects on people and societies, and simultaneously they fail to educate many children effectively. In most environments, wherever schools have been established, they have had transforming effects on the societies that they exist in. At the same time most schools fail with the large majority of children (Suárez-Orozco & SuárezOrozco, 2010). If schools effectively educate 25% of the children in a developing country, that’s a great advance over educating none of them, and it has a huge effect on the developing economy and infrastructure of that country. But it is still only 25%. In the 21st century, we are trying to educate everybody. One of the main problems with schools is easily observed in most classrooms. Simply ask most children to complete this sentence: ‘School is what? [Fill in the blank]’. The most common response is, ‘School is boring’. This happens even in good schools! In Massachusetts we have some of the best schools in the US, and yet most of our children still say school is boring. School does not have to be boring. Students have a natural curiosity and we owe it to them to try to make schools interesting so that they can learn effectively. A large part of the reason that schools are boring lies in the process of asking students to memorize knowledge without understanding it. A related problem is the failure to show children how what they learn is relevant for their lives. Instead of just memorizing facts, students and teachers in schools can actually think about and analyze tasks, problems, and issues. Also, the focus on standardised tests exacerbates the problems with schools. We will suggest ways around these difficulties so that schools can be more interesting and relevant.

Dawson, T. L., & Stein, Z. (2011). We are all learning here: Cycles of research and application in adult development. In C. Hoare (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of reciprocal adult development and learning (pp. 447-460). New York: Oxford.

This paper demonstrates the effectiveness of a specific methodology—developmental maieutics—designed to bridge developmental research and practice by setting up an ongoing conversation between test takers and test developers. The approach involves building standardized, diagnostic educational assessments that also function as research instruments. After reviewing the research and theory behind developmental maieutics, we direct attention to a particular instance of current research and application involving the Lectical Decision Making Assessment™ (LDMA). The LDMA focuses on three aspects of decision making-perspective taking, argumentation, and the decision-making process. It has been used in a variety of contexts, most recently as an online assessment employed by researchers and management consultants to diagnose the learning needs of individual managers. Here, we show how data produced during the process of providing feedback to test takers has contributed to our understanding of an important aspect of perspective taking and perspective seeking, demonstrating how usable knowledge about human development can be constructed through an ongoing conversation between two groups of learners—test developers and test takers.

Dawson, T. L., Goodheart, E. A., Wilson, M., & Commons, M. L. (2010). Concrete, abstract, formal, and systematic operations as observed in a "Piagetian" Balance Beam Task Series. Advances in Rasch Measurement, 11, 1-13.

Stein, Z., Dawson, T. L., & Fischer, K. W. (2010). Redesigning testing: Operationalizing the new science of learning In M. S. Khine & I. M. Saleh (Eds.), New science of learning: Computers, cognition and collaboration in education. (pp.207-224) New York: Springer

Complex standardized testing infrastructures have come to shape most educational systems. With so many people taking so many tests, we must seriously begin to ask, what are we measuring? and what is worth measuring? This chapter presents the work of a research group that has begun to use the latest in computer technology and learning science to build tests that are both standardized and formative, grounded in research about learning, and richly educative. 

Stein, Z., Della Chiesa, B., Hinton, C., & Fischer, K. W. (2010). Ethical issues in educational neuroscience: Raising children in a brave new world. In I. Sahakian (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics. London: Oxford University Press.

Stein, Z. (2009). What's in a word? Re-tooling experimental methods and indices of abstractness. Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Hiekkinen, K. (2009). Metrics, models, and measurement in developmental psychology. Integral Review, 5(1), 4-24.

Stein, Z., & Dawson, T., & Heikkinen, K. (2009). Identifying within-level differences in leadership decision making. Integral Leadership Review, 9(5).

Scores on early developmental assessments were assocuated with level descriptions.  Everyone who received a score at a certain developmental level received exactly the same feedback. The LAS makes it possible to identify the specific strengths and weaknesses of  performances scored in the a single complexity level, allowing us to provide highly personalized feedback. In this article we demonstrate this by examining assessments that are scored at the same Lectical level in terms of their similarities and differences.

Dawson, T. L., & Stein, Z. (2008). Cycles of research and application in education: Learning pathways for energy concepts. Mind, Brain, & Education, 2(2), 90-103.

We begin this article by situating a methodology called developmental maieutics in the emerging field of mind, brain, and education. Then, we describe aspects of a project in which we collaborated with a group of physical science teachers to design developmentally informed activities and assessments for a unit on energy. Pen-and-paper assessments, called teasers, were employed, along with interviews, to study how students learned about the physics of energy. Results were used to describe students’ learning pathways and to design a scoring rubric for teacher use. We hypothesized that (a) teasers, by themselves, could be used effectively to evaluate the developmental level of students’ reasoning about energy and (b) teachers could employ the scoring rubric with minimal instruction. Encouraged by our findings, we went on to create a freely available online version of the energy teaser, including a new rubric designed to improve the accuracy with which teachers can assess the developmental level of students’ energy conceptions.

Stein, Z., Connell, M., & Gardner, H. (2008). Exercising quality control in interdisciplinary education: Toward an epistemologically responsible approach. Journal of the Philosophy of Education, 42(3-4), 401-414.

Stein, Z., & Fischer, K. W. (2008). Directions for mind, brain, and education: Methods, models, and morality. Educational Philosophy and Theory.

Stein, Z., & Heikkinen, K. (2008). On operationalizing aspects of altitude: An introduction to the Lectical Assessment System for integral researchers. Journal of Integral Theory and Practice 3(1), 105-138.

Stein, Z. (2007). Modeling the demands of interdisciplinary: Toward a framework for evaluating interdisciplinary endeavors Integral Review, 4.

Dawson, T. L., & Fischer, K. W. (2006). Implications of assessment for learners. Measurement, 4(4).

Dawson-Tunik, T. L. (2006). The meaning and measurement of conceptual development in adulthood. In C. Hoare (Ed.), The intersection of adult development and learning: A handbook of theory, research, and practice (pp. 433-454). London: Oxford.

Until recently, there was one basic approach to the study of conceptual development in adulthood. This approach, exemplified in the work of scholars like Kohlberg and his colleagues (Colby, Kohlberg, Gibbs, & Lieberman, 1983), Kitchener & King (1990), Armon (Armon & Dawson, 2002), and Perry (1970), involves collecting data from a more or less representative sample of individuals at more or less frequent intervals over the course of several years. Guided by cognitive developmental theory, their longitudinal results, and sometimes, philosophical categories, researchers construct stage definitions. Although these definitions are cast as descriptions of reasoning structures, they include descriptions of the conceptual content associated with each developmental level. Stage definitions, along with exemplars from the construction samples targeted in these studies, become the basis for scoring manuals, reifying the conceptual content associated with each stage.

Dawson, T. L., Fischer, K. W., & Stein, Z. (2006). Reconsidering qualitative and quantitative research approaches: A cognitive-developmental perspective. New Ideas in Psychology, 24, 229-239.

Rather than embracing the notion that contextualism requires purely qualitative methodologies, Westerman and Yanchar argue that there is a place for quantification in post-positivist research. Both authors provide compelling arguments for this position. From our cognitive developmental perspective, we see this as a move toward a new level of integration in psychology. Whereas reactive shifts between positivist quantification and radical contextualism exemplify the kind of pendulum swing we see in individual development immediately before the emergence of a new developmental level, the moves suggested by Westerman and Yanchar are in the direction of a qualitative shift—a new level of differentiation and integration. We argue that the arguments put forward by Westerman and Yanchar do not quite achieve consolidation at this new level, because they remain embedded in a post-positivist contextualism that demands an a priori rejection of psychological universals and strong forms of quantification. In our view, consolidation at this new level requires a shift to a problem-focused methodological pluralism that assimilates a wide range of methodological approaches, critiques them, and adapts them in light of the problems researchers seek to solve.

Dawson, T. L. (2006). Stage-like patterns in the development of conceptions of energy. In X. Liu & W. Boone (Eds.), Applications of Rasch measurement in science education (pp. 111-136). Maple Grove, MN: JAM Press.

In this chapter, Dawson examines developmental patterns in the acquisition of the energy concept in a group of 9th graders. The results suggest (1) that many ninth graders fail to achieve an adequate understanding of the energy concept; (2) that an understanding of this concept requires that students are able to construct linear arguments composed of abstract concepts, a capability identified with the abstract mappings level in Fischer’s (1980) developmental sequence of skill (complexity) levels; (3) that many of the conceptual elements of these arguments are formed at the complexity level preceding abstract mappings; and (4) that the difficulty of learning the energy concept is much greater for students who do not demonstrate the ability to construct abstract mappings.

Dawson-Tunik, T. L., Commons, M., Wilson, M., & Fischer, K. (2005). The shape of development The European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 2, 163-196.

This project examines the shape of conceptual development from early childhood through adulthood. To do so we model the attainment of developmental complexity levels in the moral reasoning of a large sample (n= 747) of 5- to 86-year-olds. Employing a novel application of the Rasch model to investigate patterns of performance in these data, we show that the acquisition of successive complexity levels proceeds in a pattern suggestive of a series of spurts and plateaus. We also show that there are six complexity levels represented in performance between the ages of 5 and 86; that patterns of performance are consistent with the specified sequence; that these findings apply to both childhood and adulthood levels; that sex is not an important predictor of complexity level once educational attainment has been taken into account; and that both age and educational attainment predict complexity level well during childhood, but educational attainment is a better predictor in late adolescence and adulthood.

Dawson, T. L., & Wilson, M. (2004). The LAAS: A computerized developmental scoring system for small- and large-scale assessments. Educational Assessment, 9, 153-191.

The evaluation of developmental interventions has been hampered by a lack of practical, reliable, and objective developmental assessment systems. This article describes the construction of a domain-general computerized developmental assessment system for texts: the Lexical Abstraction Assessment System (LAAS). The LAAS provides assessments of the order of hierarchical complexity of oral and written texts, employing scoring rules developed with predictive discriminant analysis. The LAAS is made possible by a feature of conceptual structure we call hierarchical order of abstraction, which produces systematic quantifiable changes in lexical composition with development. The LAAS produces scores that agree with human ratings of hierarchical complexity more than 80% of the time within one-third of a complexity order across 6 complexity orders (18 levels), spanning the portion of the lifespan from about 4 years of age through adulthood. This corresponds to a Kendall’s tau of .93.

Dawson-Tunik, T. L. (2004). A good education is... The development of evaluative thought across the life-span. Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs, 130, 4-112.

The author uses a cognitive developmental approach to investigate educational conceptions, addressing the question, How does evaluative reasoning about education change over the course of cognitive development? The author conducted independent analyses of the developmental level and conceptual content of 246 interview performances of individuals aged 5 to 86 years. The developmental level of the interview performances was assessed with a content-general scoring system, the Hierarchical Complexity Scoring System. A Rasch analysis of the results revealed 6 developmental levels and provided support for invariant sequence, developmental spurts and plateaus, and similar developmental patterns for childhood and adulthood levels. The results of the subsequent analysis of the propositional content of the same interview texts were used to produce qualitative descriptions of changes in evaluative reasoning about education across the 6 levels identified in the data. Finally, descriptions constructed in this way, although richer and less prone to reification, were shown to be conceptually analogous to the stage definitions produced by other cognitive developmental researchers. The implications of the method and findings are discussed.

Dawson-Tunik, T. L., Fischer, K. W., Stein, Z. (2004). Do stages belong at the center of developmental theory? A commentary on Piaget's stages. New Ideas in Psychology, 22, 255-263.

Feldman seeks to align his theoretical project with Piaget’s ‘‘secret ambition’’ as expressed in this quotation. He sensibly suggests that Piaget’s four broad stages of psychological development should be re-articulated in light of ‘‘our best current understanding of how cognitive development proceeds from birth through early
adulthood’’ (p. 4). He wants to ensure that these stages remain at the core of the psychological analysis of development, seeking to amend Piaget’s original formulation by bringing about some needed theoretical repair work. We applaud Feldman’s efforts to take Piaget’s deep analysis seriously and improve upon it and note that many other scholars share this broad goal. We agree that the theoretical issues Feldman highlights are central to an understanding of cognitive development in general and developmental stages in particular—including reflective abstraction, figurative and operative knowledge, taking of consciousness, stage transitions and emergence, structure d’ensemble, variability, and within-stage sequences. However, we find Feldman’s formulation of stages in terms of these issues to be neither coherent nor consistent.

Dawson, T. L. (2004). Assessing intellectual development: Three approaches, one sequence. Journal of Adult Development, 11, 71-85.

In this paper, I compare three developmental assessment systems, employed to score a set of 152 interviews of engineering students: the Perry Scoring System (W. G. Perry, 1970), the Hierarchical Complexity Scoring System (T. L. Dawson, 2004, 1/31/03), and the Lexical Abstraction Assessment System (LAAS; T. L. Dawson & M. Wilson, in press). Overall, the Hierarchical Complexity Scoring System and Perry Scoring System agree with one another within the parameters of interrater agreement commonly reported for either one of the systems, and the Perry system and the LAAS agree with one another about as well as the LAAS and the Hierarchical Complexity Scoring System, upon which the LAAS is based.

Dawson, T. L., Xie, Y., & Wilson, M. (2003). Domain-general and domain-specific developmental assessments: Do they measure the same thing? Cognitive Development 18,61-78.

The concept of epistemological development is useful in psychological assessment only insofar as instruments can be designed to measure it consistently, reliably, and without bias. In the psychosocial domain, most traditional stage assessment systems rely on a process of matching concepts in a scoring manual generated from a limited number of construction cases, and thus suffer from bias introduced by an over-dependence on particular content. In contrast, the Hierarchical Complexity Scoring System (HCSS) employs criteria for assessing the hierarchical complexity of texts that are independent of specific conceptual content. This paper examines whether the HCSS and a conventional stage assessment system, Kohlberg’s Standard Issue Scoring System (SISS), measure the same dimension of performance. We scored 378 moral judgment interviews with both scoring systems. We then conducted a multidimensional partial credit analysis to determine the extent to which the two scoring systems assess the same dimension of performance. The disattenuated correlation between performance estimates on the SISS and HCSS is .92. Based on this and other evidence, we conclude that a single latent trait—hierarchical complexity—is the predominant dimension assessed by the two systems.

Dawson, T. L. (2003). A stage is a stage is a stage: A direct comparison of two scoring systems. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 164, 335-364. (Request through Research Gate.)

L. Kohlberg (1969) argued that his moral stages captured a developmental sequence specific to the moral domain. To explore that contention, the author compared stage assignments obtained with the Standard Issue Scoring System (A. Colby & L. Kohlberg, 1987a, 1987b) and those obtained with a generalized content-independent stage-scoring system called the Hierarchical Complexity Scoring System (T. L. Dawson, 2002a), on 637 moral judgment interviews (participants' ages ranged from 5 to 86 years). The correlation between stage scores produced with the 2 systems was .88. Although standard issue scoring and hierarchical complexity scoring often awarded different scores up to Kohlberg's Moral Stage 2/3, from his Moral Stage 3 onward, scores awarded with the two systems predominantly agreed. The author explores the implications for developmental research.

Dawson, T. L., & Gabrielian, S. (2003). Developing conceptions of authority and contract across the life-span: Two perspectives. Developmental Review, 23, 162-218.

Kohlberg’s moral stage scale is but one of a number of “Piagetian” developmental scales proposed during the latter part of this century. Kohlberg claimed that his moral stages fulfilled the criteria for “hard” Piagetian stages—invariant sequence, qualitative change, and structured wholeness. He also argued that his scoring system measures a dimension of thought with a unique structure. To explore these contentions, we compare the concepts that define Kohlbergian stages with those associated with orders of hierarchical complexity as determined with the Hierarchical Complexity Scoring System, a generalized content-independent stage-scoring system. We conclude that the sequence of conceptual development specified by Kohlberg generally matches the sequence identified with the Hierarchical Complexity Scoring System, and that contract and authority concepts identified with a methodology that employs the Hierarchical Complexity Scoring System match the concepts that define theoretically analogous Kohlbergian stages above Kohlberg’s stage 2. However, we argue that Kohlberg’s stages 1 and 2 do not accurately describe the development of moral concepts in young children.

Dawson, T. L. (2002). New tools, new insights: Kohlberg's moral reasoning stages revisited. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 26,154-166.

In this paper, four sets of data, collected by four different research teams over a period of 30 years are examined. Common item equating, which yielded correlations from .94 to .97 across datasets, was employed to justify pooling the data for a new analysis. Probabilistic conjoint measurement (Rasch analysis) was used to model the results. The detailed analysis of these pooled data confirms results reported in previous research about the ordered acquisition of moral stages and the relationship between moral stages and age, education, and sex. New findings include: (1) empirical evidence that transitions between “childhood” and “adult” stages of development involve similar mechanisms; (2) support for the notion of stages as qualitatively distinct modes of reasoning that display properties consistent with a notion of structure d’ensemble; and (3) evidence of a stage between Kohlberg’s stages 3 and 4. Consistent with reports from earlier research, the relationship between age and moral development is curvilinear. The relationship between educational attainment and moral development is linear, suggesting that educational environments have an equivalent impact across the course of development. Older males have slightly higher scores than older females after age and education are taken into account (accounting for 0.3% of the variance in moral ability).

Dawson, T. L. (2002). A comparison of three developmental stage scoring systems. Journal of Applied Measurement, 3, 146-189.

In social psychological research the stage metaphor has fallen into disfavor due to concerns about bias, reliability, and validity. To address some of these issues, I employ a multidimensional partial credit analysis comparing moral judgment interviews scored with the Standard Issue Scoring System (SISS) (Colby and Kohlberg, 1987b), evaluative reasoning interviews scored with the Good Life Scoring System (GLSS) (Armon, 1984b), and Good Education interviews scored with the Hierarchical Complexity Scoring System (HCSS) (Commons, Danaher, Miller, and Dawson, 2000). A total of 209 participants between the ages of 5 and 86 were interviewed. The multidimensional model reveals that even though the scoring systems rely upon different criteria and the data were collected using different methods and scored by different teams of raters, the SISS, GLSS, and HCSS all appear to measure the same latent variable. The HCSS exhibits more internal consistency than the SISS and GLSS, and solves some methodological problems introduced by the content dependency of the SISS and GLSS. These results and their implications are elaborated.

Dawson, T. L. (2001). Layers of structure: A comparison of two approaches to developmental assessment. Genetic Epistemologist, 29 (4), 1-10.

Proponents of domain-specific cognitive developmental assessment systems argue that development in particular knowledge domains is characterized by domain-specific structures, concluding from this that developmental assessment should be conducted with domain-specific assessment systems. My colleagues and I have questioned this assertion in a series of studies comparing results obtained with several domain-specific developmental assessment systems and one domain-general developmental assessment system. For the present study, 8 expert stage-scorers were interviewed with a think-aloud procedure as they scored a range of text segments from a diverse sample of interview protocols. Two of these raters employed Kohlberg's Standard Issue Scoring System (Colby & Kohlberg, 1987b) and Armon's Good Life Scoring System (Armon, 1984b) and six employed Commons' Hierarchical Complexity Scoring System (Commons et al., 1995). Despite differences in training, the mean scores of these two groups of raters agreed within one full order of hierarchical complexity 97.6% of the time. In spite of this, the criteria employed to determine the stage of statements varied widely across the two groups of raters. Some of these criteria centered on particular conceptual content, some referred primarily to socio-moral perspective, and others referred to highly formal indicators of hierarchical complexity—hierarchical order of abstraction and logical structure. To aid in explaining the strong correspondence between stage scores awarded with the three scoring systems, the relationships among different types of scoring criteria are modeled as 'layers' of structure representing differing levels of abstraction.

Dawson, T. L. (1994). Moral education: A review of constructivist theory and research. Unpublished position paper, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA.

The term, moral development, encompasses the notion that our moral selves evolve with time and experience. In fact, it is now taken for granted that we develop morally in ways that affect both thought and action, though there are many views about the mechanisms, components, and processes involved in this development (e. g. from the psychoanalytic tradition, Freud, 1961, from the behaviorist tradition, Aaronfreed, 1968, 1976, Bandura, 1991, from the social constructivist tradition, Dobert, 1990, Durkheim, 1973, Gewirtz, J. & Peláez-Nogueras, M., 1991, Simpson, 1974, Weinrich-Haste, 1984, and from the constructivist school, Dewey, 1916, 1990, Gilligan, 1980, Kohlberg, L., 1969,Mead, 1934, Piaget, 1965, Turiel, 1983). This paper presents a review of constructivist moral developmental theory and research and its impact on moral education. Four areas of inquiry are of particular interest: (1) Structural-developmental theories of development, principally Kohlberg’s theory of justice reasoning and Piaget’s theory of cognitive development; (2) the relative contributions of moral reasoning and other factors to moral action; (3) the developmental effects of different moral environments; and (4) recent theory and research on the effects of educational interventions that have been guided by structural developmental theory and research.

Fischer, K. W., & Dawson, T. L. (2002). A new kind of developmental science: Using models to integrate theory and research. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 67 (1, Serial No. 173), 156-167.

The authors argue that Demetriou and his colleagues' project shows how developmental scientists can assess concepts from multiple frameworks and relate them through explicit modeling and targeted research to build explanations powerfully grounded in data and theory. They presents doubts related to specific conclusions because of issues related to the design of the developmental scales and the use of models.

Armon, C., & Dawson, T. L. (2002). The good life: A longitudinal study of adult value reasoning. In J. Demick & C. Andreoletti (Eds.), Handbook of Adult Development (pp. 271-300). New York: Plenum Press.

Philosophers and social critics have promoted different conceptions of the good human life for some 2000 years. Such philosophical conceptions always included, or relied entirely on models of good psychological functioning or mental health. In contrast, psychologists have only recently entered the debate about the Good Life. It was not until the 19th and 20th centuries that theorists such as Baldwin (1906), James (1890), Freud (1961), Horney (1937), and Erikson (1963) began to articulate models of mental and psychological health. These models can be understood as attempts to define (in part) a good human life. Contemporary television and song lyrics reveal an interest in the nature a good human life. Yet, many believe that there are as many conceptions of the Good Life as there are persons who seek it (e.g., Nosick, 1974; Rawls, 1971). The findings of this study, however, indicate that although the sources of our conceptions differ widely across time and culture, the number of actual views of the Good Life may be finite. Moreover, despite the 2000 years that passed between ancient philosophers and early psychologists, these groups, too, produced some strikingly similar ideas about the Good Life. Further, there is also dramatic similarity between the Good Life concepts of many philosophers and the work of contemporary developmental psychologists. Finally, the results presented here demonstrate that educated adults, who have studied neither philosophy nor psychology, also construct similiar good life concepts. This study provides a general, developmental model of value reasoning about the Good Life and presents empirical findings from a 13-year study of young and older adults.

Dawson, T. L. (2000). Moral reasoning and evaluative reasoning about the good life. Journal of Applied Measurement, 1 (372-397).


Schwartz, M., & Dawson, T., L. (2010, April). Standards & assessments: The role of depth versus breadth in student success. A commitment to excellence: Redesigning student success in early childhood, elementary, secondary and postsecondary education.

Dawson, T. L. (2008). The LAS. Northampton, MA: Developmental Testing Service, Inc.

Dawson, T. L. (2008). Metacognition and learning in adulthood: A literature review. Northampton, MA: Developmental Testing Service, Inc.

Dawson, T. L. (2008). Values centered leadership: A review of the relevant research. Northampton, MA: Developmental Testing Service, Inc.)

Dawson, T. L., & Stein, Z. (2006). Mind Brain & Education study: Final report. Northampton, MA: Developmental Testing Service, Inc.

Dawson-Tunik, T. L. (2006, April). The National Decision-Making Curriculum: Designing and evaluating developmentally informed curricula. Learning and the Brain, Cambridge, MA.

Dawson-Tunik, T. L. (2006, April). Micro-development in the classroom. Learning and the Brain, Cambridge, MA.

Dawson, T. L., & Stein, Z. (2006). Leadership preferences, environment preferences, and motivators of GenY employees. Northampton, MA: Developmental Testing Service, Inc.

Dawson, T. L. (2005, June). It's all good: Moral relativism and the millennial generation. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Jean Piaget Society, Vancouver.

Dawson, T. L., & Stein, Z. (2005). Reasoning about morality in sons of lesbian and traditional parents: A developmental analysis. Northampton, MA: The Developmental Testing Service, Inc.

Dawson, T. L., & Stein, Z. (2005). A comparison of the content of the interviews of 30 lesbian and 30 traditional parentsNorthampton, MA: The Developmental Testing Service, Inc.

Dawson-Tunik, T. L. & Stein, Z. (2004, July). Critical Thinking Seminar pre and post-assessment results. Hatfield, MA: Developmental Testing Service, Inc.

Dawson, T. L., & Stein, Z. (2006). National decision-making curriculum. Results of the pre- and post-instruction developmental assessments. Northampton, MA: Developmental Testing Service.

Dawson, T. L., & Stein, Z. (2004). National Leadership Study results. Hatfield, MA: Developmental Testing Service, Inc.

Stein, Z. & Dawson, T. L. (2004). It's all good: Moral relativism and the millennial mind. Paper presented at the The Millennial Mind, Baltimore, MD.

Dawson, T. L. (2021, June). The relation between argumentation quality & growth trajectory. Proceedings from the Annual Meeting of the Jean Piaget Society.

Dawson, T. L. (2021, June). The calibration of CLAS—an electronic cognitive-developmental scoring system for texts. Proceedings from the Annual Meeting of the Jean Piaget Society.

Dawson, T. L., & Stein, Z. (2008, August). Developmental differences in the understanding of Integral Theory: A statement of the problem and description of research methods (slides) (audio).Paper presented at the First Biennial Integral Theory Conference. MP3 (The audio goes with the slides.)

Dawson, T. L. (2008, June). What comes next? Building assessments for learning. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Jean Piaget Society.

Dawson, T. L. (2008, June). Anatomy of a DiscoTest. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Jean Piaget Society.

Dawson, T. L. & Stein, Z. (2007, November). It's all good: A fresh look at ethical relativism. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Moral Education, New York.

Dawson, T. L. (2007, November). The ultimate Tower of Babel makeover: Using cognitive developmental science to align educational standards, curricula, & assessments. Presented at the International Mind, Brain, and Education Society Conference. Fort Worth, TX.

Stein, Z. (2008, August). Developmental differences in the understanding of Integral theory and practice: An introduction to the problem and the Developmental Maieutic Approach. Paper presented at the First Biennial Integral Theory Conference.

Stein, Z., Dawson, T. (2008, August). Intuitions of altitude: Researching the conditions of the possibility for developmental assessment. Paper presented at the First Biennial Integral Theory Conference. MP3 (The audio goes with the slides.)

Stein, Z., Schwartz, M., & Dawson, T. L. (2009). Testing the limits of testing. Symposium presented at the IMBES Conference.

Dawson, T. L. & Z. Stein (2010). Developmental maieutics—a methodology for integrating research, assessment, curricula, and instruction. SERP CCDD Working Group. Cambridge, MA.

Schwartz, M. and T. Dawson, L (2010). Standards & assessments: The role of depth versus breadth in student success. A commitment to excellence: Redesigning student success in early childhood, elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education. Dallas, TX.

Solloway, S. G. & T. L. Dawson (2010). Utilizing Rasch analysis to compare the psychometric properties of four mindfulness measures and conduct scale revision. Investigating and Integrating Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society: 8th Annual International Scientific Conference for Clinicians, Researchers, and Educators. Worchester, MA.

Stein, Z., et al. (2010). Global consciousness, communities, and conflict resolution: a preliminary investigation into the development of cosmopolitan reasoning skills. Northampton, MA, For the Ross School.

Dawson, T. L. & Z. Stein (2011). Developing conceptions of leadership. MBE summer institute. Cambridge, MA.

Dawson, T. L. & Z. Stein (2011). Redesigning testing: The science of learning & the future of educational assessment Audio. MBE Summer Institute.

Dawson, T. L. (2013). Redesigning testing in science: Bringing research-based diagnostic assessments into the classroom. NSTA.

Dawson, T. (2014). Assessing clinical reasoning: beyond the facts. Dalhousie Summer Institute, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Dawson, T. (2014). A confirmatory Rasch analysis of the RFJ001. International Objective Measurement Workshop. Philadelphia.

Dawson, T. L. (2013). Redesigning testing in science: Bringing research-based diagnostic assessments into the classroom. NSTA.

Dawson, T. & Dear, S. (2014). Learning, the brain, and technology: A new approach to assessment. NAIS, Orlando, Florida.

Dawson, T. L. (2014). From theory to practice: supporting the development of reflective judgment skills in the classroom. The biennial meeting of IMBES, Dallas, TX.

Dawson, T. L. & Seneviratna, Gayan (2015). Cultivating the integral mind: New evidence that well-integrated neural networks catalyze development. ITC. Sonoma, CA.

Dawson, T. L. (2015). Integral assessment: More than one pathway? ITC. Sonoma, CA.

Drossman, H., et al. (2015). Development of an Integral-Motivated Lectical® Ecological Stewardship Assessment. ITC. Sonoma, CA.

Dawson, T. L., et al. (2015). Cultivating the integral mind: the relation between development and perceptions of performance in a large-scale leadership program. ITC. Sonoma, CA.

Thornton, A. M. A., Dawson, Theo L. (2015). Exploring the relation between Ego development & neo-Piagetian development: Practical and theoretical implications. ITC. Sonoma, CA.

Dawson, T. L. (2016). Second language learning predicts the growth of critical thinking. Paper presented at the ACTFL conference. Boston, MA.

Dawson, T. L. (2017, October 20). Using technology to advance understanding: The calibration of CLAS, an electronic developmental scoring system. Proceedings from Annual Conference of the Northeastern Educational Research Association, Trumbull, CT.

Dawson, T. L., & Thornton, A. M. A. (2017, October 18). An examination of the relationship between argumentation quality and students’ growth trajectories. Proceedings from Annual Conference of the Northeastern Educational Research Association, Trumbull, CT.

Solloway, S. W. & T. L. Dawson (2016). Growing into compassion. Paper presented at the Mind & Life conference. San Diego, CA.

Dawson, T. L. (1998). Meaning and the hierarchical complexity of language (Education as play). Proceedings from Annual Symposium of the Jean Piaget Society, Chicago.

References arranged by topic

development | decision making | ethics | leadership | reflective judgment | self understanding | testing


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Cognitive development

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Hooijiberg, R., & Schneider (2001). Behavioral complexity and social intelligence: how executive leaders use stakeholders to form systems perspective. In Zaccaro & Klimoski (Eds.), The nature of organizational leadership: Understanding the performance imperatives confronting today's leaders. (pp. 104-131). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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Keller, M., Edelstein, W., Schmid, C., Fang, F., & Faug, G. (1998). Reasoning about responsibilities and obligations in close relationships: A comparison across two cultures. Developmental Psychology, 34(4), 731-741.

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Kitchener, K. S., & King, P. M. (1990). The reflective judgment model: ten years of research. In M. L. Commons & C. Armon & L. Kohlberg & F. A. Richards & T. A. Grotzer & J. D. Sinnott (Eds.), Adult development (Vol. 2, pp. 62-78). New York NY: Praeger.

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Decision making

Arlin, P. K. (1989). Problem solving and problem finding in young artists and young scientists. In M. L. Commons, J. D. Sinnott, F. A. Richards & C. Armon (Eds.), Adult development, Vol. 1: Comparisons and applications of developmental models. (pp. 197-216).

Bandura, A., & Jourden, F. (1991). Self-regulatory mechanisms governing the impact of social comparison on complex decision making. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 941-951.

Basadur, M., & Hausdorf, P. A. (1996). Measuring divergent thinking attitudes related to creative problem solving and innovation management. Creativity Research Journal, 9, 21-32.

Bass, K., & Barnett, T. B. (1998). The moral philosophy of sales managers and its influence on ethical decision making. Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 18(2), 1-17.

Bazerman, M. H. (1986 ). Judgement in managerial decision making. New York: Wiley.

Bransford, J. D., Sherwood, R., Vye, N. J., & Rieser, J. (1986). Teaching thinking and problem solving. American Psychologist, 41(10), 1078-1089.

Ewell- Kumar, A. (1999). The influence of metacognition on managerial hiring decision making: Implications for management development. Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences, 59(10-A).

Ford, R. C., & Richardson, W. D. (1994). Ethical decision making: A review of the empirical literature. Journal of Business Ethics, 13, 205-221.

Gul, F. A. (1984). The joint and moderating role of personality and cognitive style on decision making. The Accounting Review,LIX(2).

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Huber, G. P. (1980). Managerial decision making. Glenview, IL: Scott Foresman.

Keeney, R. L. (1992). Value-focused thinking: A path to creative decision making. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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Lee, D. (1991). Relativistic operations: A framework for conceptualizing teachers' everyday problem solving. In J. Sinnot & J. C. Cavanaugh (Eds.), Bridging paradigms: Positive development in adulthood and cognitive aging. (pp. 73-86). New York: Praeger Publishers.

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Linstone, H. A. (1999). Decision making for technology executives: Using multiple perspectives to improve performances. Norwood, MA: Artech House.

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March, J. G. (1994). A primer on decision making. The Free Press: New York.

Meacham, J. A., & Emont, N. C. (1989). The interpersonal basis of everyday problem solving. In J. D. Sinnott (Ed.), Everyday problem solving: Theory and applications. (pp. 7-23). New York, NY: Praeger Publishers.

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Nutt, P. C. (1976). Models for decision making in organizations and some contextual variables which stipulate optimal use. The Academy of Management Review, 1(2), 84-98.

Ravlin, E. C., & Meglino, B. M. (1987). Effect of values on perception and decision making: A study of alternative work values measures. Journal of Applied Psychology, 72, 666-673.

Sigler, E. A., & Tallent-Runnels, M. K. (2006). Examining the validity of scores from an instrument designed to measure metacognition of problem solving. The Journal of General Psychology, 133, 257-276.

Sinnott, J. D. (1991). Limits to problem solving: Emotion, intention, goal clarity, health, and other factors in postformal thought. In J. D. Sinnot & J. D. Cavanaugh (Eds.), Bridging paradigms: Positive development in adulthood and cognitive aging. (pp. 169-201). New York, NY: Praeger Publishers.

Sinnott, J. D. (Ed.). (1989). Everyday problem solving: Theory and applications. Praeger Publishers; New York, NY, US.

Sinnott, J. D., & Guttmann, D. (1978). Dialectics of decision making in older adults. Human Development, 21, 190-200.

Sternberg, R. J. & Frensch, P. A. (Eds.). (1991). Complex problem solving: Principles and mechanisms. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc; Hillsdale, NJ, US.

Vroom, V., & Yetton, P. W. (1973). Leadership and decision making. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Weber, J. (1996). Influences upon managerial moral decision making: Nature of the harm and magnitude of consequences. Human Relations, 49(1), 1-22.

Wynn, C. T. (1989). Decision making and postformal thought: Goals for secondary social studies education. Journal of Social Studies Research, 13, 1-9.

Zych, J. M. (1999). Integrating ethical issues with managerial decision making in the classroom: Product support programme decisions. Journal of Business Ethics, 18, 255-266.

development | decision making | ethics | leadership | reflective judgment | self understanding | testing

Ethical reasoning and behavior

Bartek, S. E., Krebs, D. L., et al. (1993). Coping, defending, and the relations between moral judgment and moral behavior in prostitutes and other female juvenile delinquents. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 102(1): 66-73.

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Coady, H. (1986). Behavioral correlates of moral judgment. Journal of Psychology 120: 191-198.

Dawson, T. L. (2008). Values-centered leadership: A review. Northampton, MA: Developmental Testing Service, Inc.

Hoffman, M. L. (1991). Empathy, social cognition, and moral action. Handbook of moral behavior and development, Vol. 1: Theory. W. Kurtines and L. G. Jacob. Hillsdale, NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum: 275-301.

Jennings, W. S. and L. Kohlberg (1983). Effects of a just community programme on the moral development of youthful offenders. Journal of Moral Education 12: 33-50.

Keller, M. and W. Edelstein (1993). The development of the moral self from childhood to adolescence. The moral self. Studies in contemporary German social thought. G. G., Noam, T. E. Wren, G. Nunner-Winkler and W. Edelstein. Cambridge, MA, MIT Press: 310-336.

Kohlberg, L. (1984). The relationship of moral judgment to moral action. Morality, moral behavior, and moral development. W. Kurtines and J. Gewirtz. New York, John Wiley & Sons: 52-73.

Levin, I. and R. Beckerman-Greenberg (1980). Moral judgment and moral behavior in sharing: A developmental analysis. Genetic Psychology Monographs 101: 215-230.

Narvaez, D. (1991). The college experience and moral development. Handbook of moral behavior and development, Vol. 2: Research. W. M. Kurtines and J. L. Gewirtz. Hillsdale, NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum: 229-245.

Oser, F. (1991). Moral judgment and action: An unresolved problem in the helping professions. Cadernos de Consulta Psicologica: 83-92.

Pratt, M. W., Golding, G., et al. (1988). Sex differences in adult moral orientations. Journal of Personality 56: 373-391.

Rothman, G. R. (1980). The relationship between moral judgment and moral behavior. Moral development and socialization. M. Windmiller, N. Lambert and E. Turiel. Boston, Allyn & Bacon: 107-127.

Selman, R. L., Schultz, L. H., et al. (1991). Interpersonal understanding and action: A development and psychopathology perspective on research and prevention. Rochester Symposium on Developmental Psychopathology, Vol. 3: Models and integrations. Dante Cicchetti. Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA: 289-329.

Thoma, S. J. (1993). The relationship between political preference and moral judgment development in late adolescence. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 39: 359-74.

Thoma, S. J., Rest, J. R., et al. (1991). Describing and testing a moderator of the moral judgment and action relationship. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 61: 659-669.

development | decision making | ethics | leadership | reflective judgment | self understanding | testing

Leadership reasoning and behavior

Bass, B. M. (1999). Two decades of research and development in transformational leadership. European Journal of Work & Organizational Psychology, 8(1), 9-32.

Bass, B. M. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectations. New York: The Free Press.

Boal, K. B., & Hooijberg, R. (2001). Strategic leadership research: Moving on. Leadership Quarterly, 11(4), 515-550.

Campbell, D. J., Dardis, G., & Campbell, K. M. (2003). Enhancing incremental influence: A focused approach to leadership development. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 10(1).

Clark, D. F. (2019). Women, relational leadership and power: A qualitative study of how senior women leaders experience, conceptualize, and practice leadership and power (Doctoral Dissertation).

Connelly, M. S., Gilbert, J. A., Zaccaro, S. J., Threlfall, K. V., Marks, M. A., & Mumford, M. D. (2000). Exploring the relationship of leadership skills and knowledge to leader performance. Leadership Quarterly, 11, 65-68.

den Hartog, D. N., van Muijen, J. J., & Koopman, P. L. (1997). Transactional versus transformational leadership: An analysis of the MLQ. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 70, 19-34.

Denison, D. R., Hooijberg, R., & Quinn, R. E. (1995). Paradox and performance: Toward a theory of behavioral complexity in managerial leadership. Organization Science, 6(5), 524-540.

Drath, W. H. (1990). Managerial strengths and weaknesses as functions of the development of personal meaning. Special Issue: Character and leadership. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 26, 483-499.

Eigel, K. M., & Kuhnert, K. W. (2005). Authentic development: Leadership development level and executive effectiveness. Monographs in Leadership and Management, 3, 357-385.

Ekvall, G. (1991). Change-centred leaders: Empirical evidence of a third dimension of leadership. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 12(6), 18-23.

Gentry, W. A., & Leslie, J. B. (2007). Competencies for leadership development: What's hot and what's not when assessing leadership implications for organization development. Organization Development Journal, 25(1), 37-46.

Graham, J. W. (1995). Leadership, moral development, and citizenship behavior. Business Ethics Quarterly, 5(1), 43-54.

Harris, L. S., & Kuhnert, K. W. (2008). Looking through the lens of leadership: A constructive deveopmental approach. Leadership and Organizational Development Journal, 29(1), 47-67.

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Hess, P. W. (2007). Enhancing leadership skill development by creating practice/feedback opportunities in the classroom.Journal of Management Education, 31(2), 195-214.

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development | decision making | ethics | leadership | reflective judgment | self understanding | testing

Reflective judgment and behavior

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Self understanding

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development | decision making | ethics | leadership | reflective judgment | self understanding | testing


Traditional vs. developmental assessment

Amir, R., Frankl, D. R., & Tamir, R. (1987). Justifications of answers to multiple choice items as a means for identifying misconceptions. In J. D. Novak (Ed.), Proceedings of the Second International Seminar on Misconceptions and Educational Strategies in Science and Mathematics (Vol. Vol. I, pp. 15-26). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.

Selected funders

IES (US Department of Education)

The Spencer Foundation


Dr. Sharon Solloway

The Simpson Foundation

The Leopold Foundation

Donor list

Selected clients

Glastonbury School District, CT

The Ross School

Rainbow Community School

The Study School

Long Trail School

The US Naval Academy

The City of Edmonton, Alberta

The US Federal Government

Advisory Board

Antonio Battro, MD, Ph.D., One Laptop Per Child

Marc Schwartz, Ph.D. and former high school teacher, University of Texas at Arlington

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Ed.D., University of Southern California

Willis Overton, Ph.D., Temple University, Emeritus