It is that time of year, when we start reflecting back on what we accomplished and what we could do better, and set new goals for next year. This summer, in terms of professional development, I will focus on curriculum development, revising my Common Core learning experiences, and designing interim assessment questions that align with CCSS learning experiences and high-stakes state assessments. I do not buy state test prep books. Instead, I embed state test prep questions into learning experiences. This way, when we review for the state test, we are actually reviewing, not introducing content. In this post, I'll share my tips and tricks for designing rigorous and reliable multiple-choice and written-response questions.
A major focus of the Common Core is the author's craft. Questioning the Author by Isabel Beck and Margaret McKeown is a great book for creating questions that engage students in higher level thinking that analyzes text structure.
There are assessment shifts to consider as well. Susan Brookhart shares her perspective on these shifts in an ASCD Webinar “Common Core: Assessment Shifts,” which is archived on the ASCD website. There you can watch the video and download Brookhart’s handouts. It is helpful, as Brookhart provides examples of CCSS questions.
There are two parts to a multiple-choice question: the "stem," or question, and the answer choices, the correct answer and the "distracters." Multiple-choice questions have a reputation for being less than rigorous. However, you can design questions that require the students to engage in higher-level thinking, without “tricking” the student. In their book, Teacher-Made Assessments, Christopher Gareis and Leslie Grant offer the tips below to guide teachers in designing valid and reliable stems:
Sometimes the answer choices are so far fetched that immediately you can eliminate a distracter or two because it doesn’t make sense. These types of questions do not measure students’ skills or understanding. The data is unreliable. Validity is lost as students use the process of elimination, not knowledge, to figure out the answer.
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There have been times when I accurately answered multiple-choice questions, even on state assessments, without reading the passage. These types of questions lack higher-level cognitive thinking or the text-based requirements. Gareis and Grant propose "5 Principles for Writing Higher Cognitive Level Multiple Choice Items" (Teacher-Made Assessments 115):
Always consider white space on the page. Cluttered pages will cause even the most diligent student to feel overwhelmed and possibly shut down. If you have students with tacking issues, white space will help them to be more successful. Use at least a one-inch margin. Depending on the age, I use one-and-a-half or double spacing when formatting the question and answer choices. If students struggle with handwriting or have dyslexia, put the answer choices in capital letters: A, B, C, and D. These letters are more accurately assessed than lowercase letters: a, b, c, and d.
For more on this topic, see: