Guidelines for Developing Common Assessments

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Guidelines for Developing Common Assessments


We have been using common assessments in a number or courses for the past few years. In some cases, primarily one person has developed the assessments; in other cases they have been a compilation of unit tests; and in other instances they have been used but student performance has not really been analyzed.

As we move ahead with power standards (what we want students to essentially know or be able to do) and then ask the question (what is the evidence that students have learned) we need to examine the nature of our common assessments. Do they indeed assess critical/essential knowledge and skills in each course? In addition, are all teachers who are teaching the same course teaching to the agreed upon power standards that are assessed in the common assessment?
As a result, we are now in the process of reexamining our common assessments that are used in January or June or developing new assessments. This examination is a collaborative process by which the teachers of a course work together to develop the assessment, gather student data, analyze it, and make revisions as necessary to the assessment and/or in teaching.
As we work to develop or improve our common assessments, teachers have asked for some guidelines to help them in this process. Therefore, these suggestions or guidelines are based on research and are being provided to be of assistance.
The common assessment (assessing knowledge and thinking skills) may be the only format used as a final exam, or it may be combined with a performance and/or constructed response format. A performance assessment or essay may also serve as the only format used for the final exam. If it is only knowledge and thinking skill assessment it should be done on the exam day. If a performance assessment and/or constructed response is also included, it can be done the last two weeks of the semester. The final exams count as 1/7 to 1/5 of the semester grade.
It is recommended that students should have experience with the format and types of questions that are being suggested for the common assessment during the course of the semester.
It is expected that a common assessment is the result of collaborative work and that all who teach that course will use the assessment. In addition, suggestions for developing quality assessments should be followed by those who are the only ones who teach the course.

Suggestions for Examining or Developing Common Assessments

  1. Finalize power standards for the course

  2. Examine existing final exam to determine appropriateness based on power standards and format suggestions listed below. Determine if the assessment is based on essential knowledge and skills or “factlets”

  3. Analyze according to power standards/essential knowledge and skills not “factlets”

  4. Use the WKCE/ACT/UW system admission and teacher resources as references for some samples of assessment items. Sample ACT tests can be found in guidance. Sample WKCE may be obtained from the principals.

  5. Consider taking some part of the existing exam and rethink it in terms of including:

    1. Reading passages – Use content-based resources to select

passages (usually 3 passages of 350 words or 2 of 500 words) – generate 5 to 6 questions for each passage. (It is suggested that 1000 words in an hour exam is doable. There may be more passages with fewer words. This is a guideline)

      1. Technical reading – charts, graphs, data, “how to”

      2. Recreational – high interest

      3. Informational

      4. Non-fiction – cartoon, biographical, web page, time lines

    1. Try moving the more unit dependent questions into more integrated applications. This can also mean taking key concepts and applying understanding to new situations. This can be done through:

Scenarios, video excerpts, picture, lab experiments, “story problems”, real life, reading data, short tables, graphs, maps

  1. For some departments you may want to combine written knowledge-based assessments with performances such as:

    1. Oral/presentations

    2. Writing sample

    3. Labs

    4. Products like in tech ed, art or family and consumer

  1. If you incorporate constructed response (short answer, summaries, usually a few sentences) make sure that the question or directions are explicitly stated and students know the criteria. This usually does not require a multiple paragraph essay.

Suggestions for Writing Selected Response Assessments in Order for Students to be Evaluated on their Knowledge and Skills rather than the Readability of Test Items

These suggestions are based on feedback from students and staff

Selected Response

  1. Multiple Choice formats

    • The goal is to assess the knowledge not to develop trick questions and distracting answers

    • Typically there is a stem written in the form of a question with 3 to 5 responses. Avoid questions incorporating “not”

    • Avoid using none or all of the above or combining more than one letter into a choice (such as A and B).

    • Use capital letters rather than lower case (A rather than a)

    • List the letters vertically rather than horizontally even though it takes more paper.

    • Use a space after the question when listing the choices.

    • Use large enough type size

    • If there are numerous multiple choice questions, break up the sections with heading or bold lines

  1. True and False

    • Generally this format is not recommended. It leads to guessing

    • It is better to use two choices and set it up as a multiple choice

    • If it is used, ask students to correct the statement if it is false

  1. Matching

    • Keep the items to 10 at the most, preferably less

    • Type the longer statement on the left and the term on the right

    • Give the same amount of questions as answers

    • Avoid splitting the sets in to another page to avoid students from having to go between pages

  1. Item Sets

    • These consist of the types of questions that are seen on standardized tests. A reading passage, problem, cartoon, graph, chart, etc is presented and questions are used that require students to think and apply the knowledge.

V. Fill in the Blank

    • Usually not recommended.

    • If used, a word bank may be helpful

Constructed Response/Short Answer

    • Clearly stated

    • Be specific about the extent/length of the response

    • If you expect is to be written in complete sentences or to write a paragraph make sure that is stated.

    • Since these are more time consuming to evaluate, know what you are looking for in advance and students know what is expected as well

    • If you expect them to do an essay, make sure what you mean by an essay. Generally, what is being asked for is short answer

Performance Assessment

Any time an assessment is done that requires a performance such as oral (speech or presentation), written (essay or research), producing a product or a performance (ie. music), there is a need for a scoring guide or rubric that is a list of tasks (analytic) or more holistic (major categories with characteristics embedded) that includes criteria and descriptors for levels of performance (advanced, proficient, basic and minimal or something similar). This needs to be available to students when the assignment is given. Samples are available.

Avoid giving points (such as 10 points) unless students have a clear understanding of what 10 or less points looks like. This takes the subjectivity out of evaluating student work and gives the students a clear target that is helpful in supporting an evaluation.

Final Thoughts

Developing quality common assessments is difficult work and those who work together to do so need to remember that this is a process that to some extent is never ending. The challenge is to develop the assessment based on the power standards and to initially be satisfied with the first effort, only to continue to analyze it and improve it as student results are analyzed and we learn more about writing quality assessments.

B. Laugerman

May, 2005

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