Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Today I got a shout-out asking about a practice to be employed in a classroom assessment, and it got me thinking about classroom assessments.

In this business, we think of classroom assessments as informal and low- to no-stakes, meaning that there will be no decisions made about student promotion/retention, and that there is no teacher/school/district accountability. There are probably some stakes for the students--they will receive a grade, which will contribute to an overall grade in the class, but the effect of this one grade on this one assessment is fairly minor in the great grand scheme of the universe.

Which is an excellent thing, as so few teachers know much about assessment, what skews an assessment, what practices should be avoided in assessment, which question constructions put up unnecessary obstacles for the test-takers, what kind of wording should be used. How do that happen, I wonder. Not to blame the teachers; the mystery is why teachers aren't generally required to take a class on test content development. Creating a sound assessment that accurately measures the targeted skills or knowledge requires knowing how to do it. You don't just get up from the couch one day and say, Hey, Ima build me a house without doing at least a tiny bit of research. But we don't know what we don't know.

Test content development is not difficult, but one does have to know what are the best practices in order to build a test that has at least some potential of giving a relatively fair and accurate measure of what a student knows and can do. Even if it is just in the classroom, even if the results only affect a tenth of the student's semester grade in one class.

Same thing at the DMV, you know. And those high-stakes tests could not possibly be legally defensible, constructed as they are in such a haphazard way, with all their outliers and overly attractive distractors and so on. Every single assessment professional who takes a DMV test cannot help but exclaim at the shoddy construction. What's so interesting to me about the DMV tests, though, is that even civilians recognize how bad the tests are, even if they cannot identify the reasons.

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