Are You Testing Me? Part 2

As a classroom teacher, I was always looking for ways to effectively assess my students’ learning. I came up with some great ways to differentiate through product, but sometimes, I just had to use a traditional assessment. I always thought I was pretty good at creating those assessments, but once I got my current job working for Assessment and Accountability, I realized I’d been doing lots of things that are not best practices when it comes to traditional assessments. I’ve decided to share some biggies with you in the hopes that your classroom assessments can be more valid, effective, and help you inform your instruction.

  1. Only ask one question per item (for multiple-choice items; obviously, extended response items can ask multiple questions). If you need to break it apart into two items, then do that. For example, “Who was the first President of the United States and when was he elected?” is inappropriate because it asks two things in one item.
  2. Do NOT use “all of the above” as an answer choice. This decreases the discrimination value of the item because it essentially turns the question into a 3-choice question instead of a 4 or 5-choice question. You can use “none of the above,” but use it sparingly. Additionally, use questions with “not” and “except” sparingly. These tend to confuse students and you don’t really learn if they misunderstand the concept or your wording of the question. And when you do use “not” or “except” in a question, you should capitalize and bold it so it stands out to students. (Side note: you can capitalize and bold words like “most,” “least,” and “best” if you like.)
  3. Keep in mind that your students take roughly double or triple the amount of time to answer a question as you do. For example, if you create a quiz and take it yourself and it took you 10 minutes, it will take your students between 20-30 minutes. Obviously, if you have students with special needs (ESE, ESOL, etc.), this will increase the time even more. Have reasonable, developmentally appropriate expectations for your students.
  4. Be prepared to throw out poorly performing items. If more than half your students get a question wrong, chances are, there is an issue with the item. That being said, if more than half your items end up being missed by more than half your students, that’s a pretty stellar indication that a) they did not comprehend the material at mastery level and/or b) the questions had major problems in construction. Your options: throw the test out or curve it (and by “curve” I mean use a scale to norm the distribution of grades). Creating a bad test doesn’t make you a bad teacher, it just means you need more practice and guidance in test creation.
  5. Base your items on instructional objectives and/or standards. Don’t test trivial knowledge. Make sure you are assessing things that matter in terms of the scope and sequence of your course. The BEST option is to create the assessment BEFORE you teach the lesson/unit/concept. Begin with the end in mind. Your assessment is like a blueprint for your lesson. It’s the objectives for what you’re teaching. You want the students to master X, Y, Z, so you create an assessment to measure their mastery of X, Y, Z, and then you teach X, Y, Z. Finally, you assess the students with the assessment. It’s not “teaching to the test,” it’s called “backwards design” and it’s a best practice.

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