Classroom Assessment for Teachers
Questions to Ask of Any Test
Whether you are about to take a test or build one, there are three questions to keep in mind. However, note that at this point we are considering the test as an information-gathering instrument—we are not talking about the test results.
Formative or Summative
The first question to ask is whether the test is to be formative or summative. Why does that matter? Certainly it matters to you as a student, right? And it would similarly matter to your students because formative tests do not carry that “evaluative” weight of summative tests. But as a test designer it is a particularly important question to ask. As we have already seen, formative and summative tests serve different purposes, and so it is important that you know just what you are trying to accomplish with the test you are about to write. Is it to get information for designing instruction or are you trying to determine your students’ level of achievement so that you can assign a grade? Clearly, the answer to this question of formative or summative has implications for what happens after the test.
The next question concerns what is called the internal consistency of the test. That is, it refers to matters about the integrity of the instrument (the test) for doing what it is supposed to do. Internal consistency is addressed in terms of validity and reliability.
Validity, quite simply, is a matter of whether the test measures what it is supposed to measure. If you are going to write a test for what you taught in science but include a few questions from social studies “just to see whether they were paying attention,” then the test is not valid. If you want to write a test about that same science lesson but decide to include something that wasn’t, for instance, from the chapter the class actually studied—or was content from the chapter that you didn’t get to—then the test is not valid. You could announce that whether or not you discussed it in class anything from the chapter could be on the test, but then you would have to ask yourself whether the teacher is really necessary or whether we should just assign readings and give the students a test. We don’t want to seem silly about this, but you and a classmate have very likely walked away from taking a test and complained that something was on there that you hadn’t expected. Well, now that you are writing the test, we want to be sure that only the appropriate material is included—that is, that the test is valid. So, before giving a test you should ask yourself whether the test you have written is valid rather than waiting for your students to tell you that it isn’t.
As background, there are three basic categories of validity, though your test writing will almost always be focused on one type in particular. Content validity refers to a test of knowledge or comprehension of knowledge. Spelling, math, history, science—these are all content areas. Obviously, the vast majority of tests that you write will revolve around the idea of content validity. That means that you will want to be sure that the test addresses what you have actually done in class (or assigned) and nothing else.
Constructs are areas that can’t be assessed by just asking for knowledge-based responses. Musical ability is a construct. So is creative thinking. Another is intelligence. For these areas, and others like them, an assessment instrument will ask a variety of questions or perhaps require the demonstration of various skills, and from the responses we infer a degree of intelligence, or of creative thinking, or of whatever construct is under consideration.
Similarly, you will rarely—if ever—need to design a test based upon predictive validity. It could be argued that mastering the work in one grade level could predict success at the next grade level, but that would not really be accurate. Mastering work at one level provides the foundation for attempting the next level. So the one is not really making a prediction as much as it might just set up an expectation. The tests you may have taken to get into college, on the other hand, were designed to predict your future academic success. As we all know, the predictions are not always accurate, though that is the nature of predictions. On the whole, however, a high score on something such as the SAT or the ACT tends to correlate positively with college success.
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