By Char Shryock Dir. of Curriculum and Instruction, Bay Village City Schools
When was the last time you had an honest conversation with yourself about your class assessments for reading and writing? Before you hand out your last test of the school year, take a close look at the passages you have chosen. Are they worth reading? How about the questions? Are they worth answering? What verbs are at the center of the test? Here is a 4 step process for reflecting on your assessments.
Step 1: Check That It Is A Text Worth Reading
Read the passage(s) you selected as the base for the assessment. Are there sticking points within a passage that will introduce new information, challenge the students’ beliefs or cause them to dig into the text more deeply? You want students to use the text as the expert they can refer to as they build their argument, write their narrative or gather information. For multiple text passages, ask yourself if the content will support questions that can go deeper than asking students to find the similarity between the texts. Students need to be able to analyze different points of view or synthesize information to support a claim. It is hard to do this if the texts have only a shallow connection to each other or are simplistic or lack text for students to really struggle with. Read the text again. Do you see something new you didn’t consider the first time through? What words are key to understanding the passage or supporting the claim? How would your use questions to point students to those words or key information? Are you able to think of more than one writing task that could grow from the text(s)? That is an indicator of a rich text worth working with.
Resources for Identifying Texts Worth Reading
- Assessment Quality Checklist (Achievethecore.org)
- Toolkit for Text Complexity (Achievethecore.org)
- Examples of Passages Worth Reading On Assessments (Achievethecore.org)
Step 2: Do A Question Audit
Above all else, do the questions all relate to the central idea or important details of the text and will they provide you with evidence of student mastery of a standard or set of standards? A well designed test has questions that help the students to build their thinking toward a final writing task. In order to do this effectively, the questions should be text dependent. This means that students should be able to go back to the passage(s) to build an answer. Questions about each passage should help students focus on what is important in the text. Researchers have shown that items that assess peripheral details actually encourage students to do superficial “skim” reading to quickly find answers for filling in blanks rather than reading deeply to find evidence to support ideas. Highlight the verbs in your questions. Are you asking students to analyze, integrate, determine, and evaluate or are you asking them to list, define, identify or pick from a list? Take the time to revise your questions. Questions should be a scaffold that leads to a final task, not a series of gotchas and traps to see if a student has memorized information or can remember isolated details from a text.
Resources for Identifying Questions Worth Asking
- Checklist for Identifying Question Quality (Achievethecore.org)
- Questions Standards Alignment Modules (examples & non-examples) (Achievethecore.org)
- Texts with high quality text dependent questions (Achievethecore.org)
Step 3: Questions Should Expect Students To Use Evidence From The Text
An assessment worth giving expects students to demonstrate a command of evidence. How does your assessment consistently require students to use textual evidence to analyze, evaluate, and make inferences around the use of text structures, author point of view, the central idea or important details? Students who have a command of evidence are adept at selecting details from a text to support their ideas and arguments or write a cohesive informational piece. Ohio’s Learning Standards for ELA/Literacy are meant to help students be college or career ready. The ability to make claims that are developed with appropriate evidence is a college career ready skill. Not all evidence based questions need to be short answer. It is possible to write evidence based selected response questions. These can be two part multiple choice questions or questions that ask students to select or highlight multiple quotes taken from a passage to support an answer choice. As you read through your passage and questions, are they written and ordered in a way that supports the use of text based evidence?
Resource That Shows The Use of Evidence
- Examples of Evidence Based Selected Response Questions (Achievethecore.org)
- Text Dependent Question toolkit (Illinois State Univ. College of Education)
- Evidence Based Selected Response Tutorial (ODE OhioStateTests.org)
Step 4: Check Alignment To The Standards
It is worth the time to make a blueprint for any summative test or final exam you are going to be using with your class. A blueprint is a map of the questions that includes for each item on the test, the standard(s) it is meant to collect evidence of learning on, the type of question, the depth of knowledge required by the standard, and how the question connects to the major focus of the unit or class. Just a reminder, all text dependent questions should allow student to use evidence from the text and should be based on appropriately complex text. Have you allowed for multiple entry points into your test for students who are at varying levels of mastery of the standards? You can also look at how your are going to provide feedback on this assessment to students. Will you be using points? Partial Points? A rubric? Will there be opportunities for the students to correct or revise answers to receive full credit? Do not rely on the publisher of your book series or program to create standards based questions. Take the time to review those questions too. Ohio’s State Tests are matched closely to Ohio’s Learning Standards. There are blueprints for the tests as well as specific test spec documents. You can also look at the answer documents for the released test items to see the connection to standards, and rationale for the distractor items.
Resources for Checking Alignment To Standards
- Blueprints for Ohio State Tests (ODE OhioStateTests.org)
- Performance Level Descriptors (ODE OhioStateTests.org) scroll down!
- Scoring Guides for Released Test Items (ODE OhioStateTests.org)
- Creating Your Own Test Blueprint (Holly Lavender and Catherine Shaw -ODE)
- Ohio Learning Standards – ELA (ODE education.ohio.gov)