Classroom with exam booklets on tables Photo courtesy of Eric E Castro

The intense debates surrounding standardized testing are inordinately focused on quantity rather than quality. While there are myriad arguments regarding topics such as frequency, length, and evaluation, relatively few focus on the content of the tests themselves. This may create the false assumption that all high-stake assessments are identical and result in a passive attitude towards meaningful test content.

In order to shift the debate towards test quality, researchers at Stanford University set out to identify the elements necessary of any high-quality test. By analysing a number of large-scale public and private assessments in a variety of academic disciplines, researchers identified the key “design features” of high-quality test items:

  1. Focus on and measure core disciplinary concepts and skills.
  2. Integrate theory and practice.
  3. Maximize access and minimize bias.
  4. Evaluate reasoning, rather than focusing on the response.
  5. Use authentic source material and case studies.
  6. Strategically use technology-enhanced items to increase accessibility and understanding.

With the passing of the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA) individual states are being provided more autonomy in auditing their current assessment systems and, if necessary, selecting new ones. If policymakers use meaningful measurements like these key features in guiding their audits and selections, students will benefit from more meaningful assessments.

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About the Author: Dustin is a senior account manager with DesignedUX, providing communications and strategy to organizations in education and technology. Dustin is also board member of the Canadian Public Relations Society and contributes as a communications researcher with McMaster University.