Classroom Assessment a practical Guide for Educators by Craig A. Mertler



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  • Chapter 9
  • Subjective Test
  • Items
  • Introduction
  • Subjective test items are very versatile tools for assessing student learning.
  • Again, there is a tendency for educators to believe that their development is simple and straightforward, but writing high-quality items requires a lot of practice.
  • Subjective test items: Those items that typically do not have a single correct response.
    • Subjective implies that subjective judgments of the scorer are an integral part of the scoring process.
    • Also known as “free-response,” “constructed-response,” and “supply-type” items.
    • Include short-answer and essay items.
    • Require students to produce what they know, as opposed to merely recognizing the best response from a set of options.
  • General Characteristics of Subjective Test Items
  • Subjective test items (continued)
    • Allow students to search for ideas and concepts that are not restricted to a predetermined set of responses.
    • Relatively easy to construct.
    • Time consuming for students to answer.
    • Can be time consuming and quite subjective to score, depending on the format.
  • General Characteristics of Subjective Test Items
  • General guidelines for writing subjective test items:
  • Creating Subjective Tests:
  • General Guidelines
  • 1. Subjective test items should cover important content and skills.
  • 2. The reading level and vocabulary of each item should be as elementary as possible.
  • 3. Each subjective item should be stated in an unambiguous manner, and confusing sentence structure and wording should be avoided.
  • 4. Subjective items should not consist of verbatim statements or phrases lifted from the text.
  • 5. Clues to the correct answer should not be provided.
  • 6. Vary the types of items that appear on classroom tests.
  • 7. Group items similar in format together so that each type appears in a separate section.
  • 8. Each section should be preceded by clear directions.
  • 9. Within each section, order the items from easiest to most difficult.
  • 10. Although all item types will not appear on every test, they should be arranged in the following order: true-false, matching, short-answer, multiple-choice, and subjective items.
  • 11. Provide adequate space for students to respond to each item.
  • 12. Avoid splitting an item between two pages.
  • Types of Subjective Test Items
  • Short-Answer Items
    • Require students to supply a word, short phrase, number, or other type of brief response.
    • Formatted as either questions (known as short-answer items) or incomplete sentences (known as completion or fill-in-the-blank items).
    • Virtually any completion item can be rewritten as a short-answer item (and vice versa).
    • Assess similar content and skills as multiple-choice items, but students must recall or create their answer (as opposed to simply identifying it from a list).
  • Types of Subjective Test Items
  • Short-Answer Items (continued)
    • Most efficient for assessing lower-level thinking skills.
    • Relatively easy to construct .
    • Relatively easy to score (not as easy as objective items since responses must be handwritten).
    • Two important issues related to scoring:
      • Spelling and sentence structure.
      • Students must be informed if these will be assessed on the test.
  • Types of Subjective Test Items
  • Short-Answer Items (continued)
    • Two additional issues related to scoring:
      • Students may provide a response that is correct but not what the teacher had intended.
      • Teachers must determine if these answers are the result of poor writing or lack of learning (misconceptions).
    • Variation—supplying a list of possible responses.
      • No longer a subjective item; merely a variation of a matching item.
  • Types of Subjective Test Items
  • Short-Answer Items (continued)
    • Guidelines for development:
  • Creating Short-Answer Items:
  • General Guidelines
  • 1. Short-answer items should be worded specifically and clearly.
  • 2. In completion items, place the blank near or at the end of the statement.
  • 3. Avoid copying statements verbatim.
  • 4. Omit important words only.
  • 5. Use only one or two blanks.
  • 6. Standardize the length of blanks.
  • Types of Subjective Test Items
  • Short-Answer Items (continued)
    • Advantages
      • Relatively easy to construct.
      • Easier than multiple-choice (no options needed).
      • Probability of guessing is substantially reduced.
    • Limitations
      • Primarily used only with lower-level cognitive skills.
      • Scoring can be made difficult by spelling errors and poor sentence structure.
  • Types of Subjective Test Items
  • Essay Items
    • Questions or prompts that require students to write paragraphs or develop themes as responses.
    • Involve a wider variety of thinking skills (students must recall, select, organize, and apply).
    • Responses may range from a few sentences (restricted-response items) to several pages (extended-response items); range along a continuum…
  • Restricted-response
  • Extended-response
  • Types of Subjective Test Items
  • Essay Items (continued)
    • Appropriately used to assess complex thinking skills (i.e., analysis, synthesis, and evaluation).
    • Sometimes used exclusively or as part of a larger performance assessment.
    • Not appropriately used to assess lower-level skills.
    • Scoring is complex and typically unreliable (due to influence of response characteristics).
    • Scoring can be quite time consuming.
  • Types of Subjective Test Items
  • Essay Items (continued)
    • Scoring should resemble scoring of performance assessments, using holistic or analytic rubrics.
    • Scoring can be made more objective by:
      • Defining ahead of time what constitutes a correct answer.
      • Using a carefully defined rubric or checklist.
      • Deciding whether spelling, grammar, etc. will be scored.
      • Scoring student responses anonymously.
      • Scoring all responses to a given item before moving on to the second item.
  • Types of Subjective Test Items
  • Essay Items (continued)
    • Guidelines for development:
  • Creating Essay Items:
  • General Guidelines
  • 1. Essays should consist of the application of essential knowledge to new situations.
  • 2. Essays should present a clear and focused task to students.
  • 3. Specify for students the desired length, time limits, and evaluative criteria.
  • 4. Develop a model response.
  • Types of Subjective Test Items
  • Essay Items (continued)
    • Advantages
      • Can be used to elicit a wide variety of responses.
      • Students are permitted to create their own responses.
      • Probability of guessing is substantially reduced.
    • Limitations
      • Bluffing can be a problem.
      • Very time consuming to score.
      • Content coverage may be restricted.
  • Validity and Reliability of Subjective Test Items
  • Validity
    • Must be able to answer the following:
      • Am I measuring what I intend to measure?
      • To what degree do I have confidence in the decisions I will make based on those measures?
    • Of primary interest is content evidence of validity.
  • Reliability
    • Cannot be subjected to item analysis.
    • Subjective judgments will always be made (lower reliability) but reliability can be improved by following guidelines.


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