1. What are instructional objectives and how are they used?


    1. Setting out objectives at the beginning of a course is an essential step in providing a framework into which individual lessons will fit. Without such a framework it is easy to wander off the track, to spend too much time on topics that are not central to the course.
    2. An instructional objective, sometimes called a behavioral objective, is a statement of skills or concepts that students are expected to know at the end of some period of instruction. Typically, an instructional objective is stated in such a way as to make clear how the objective will be measured. Some examples of instructional objectives are as follows:


      1. Given 100 division facts (such as 27 divided by 3), students will give correct answers to all 100 in 3 minutes.
      2. When asked, students will name at least five functions that characterize all living organisms (respiration, reproduction, etc.).
      3. In an essay, students will be able to compare and contrast the artistic styles of van Gogh and Gauguin.


  1. Planning lesson objectives


    1. In practice, the skeleton of a behavioral objective is condition-performance- criterion. First, state the conditions under which learning will be assessed, as in the following:


      1. Given a 10-item test, students will be able to
      2. In an essay the student will be able to
      3. Using a compass and protractor, the student will be able to…
      4. The second part of an objective is usually an action verb that indicates what students will be able to do, for example


        1. Write Distinguish between
        2. Identify


      1. Finally, a behavioral objective generally states a criterion for success, such as the following:


        1. . . . all 100 multiplication facts in 3 minutes.
        2. . at least five of the nations that sent explorers to the New World.


      1. Sometimes a criterion for success cannot be specified as the number correct. Even so, success should be specified as clearly as possible, as in the following:


        1. The student will write a two-page essay describing the social situation Of women as portrayed in A Doll’s House.
        2. The student will think of at least six possible uses for an eggbeater other than beating eggs.


    1. WRITING SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES Instructional objectives must be adapted to the subject matter being taught (Hamilton, 1985). When students must learn well-defined skills or information with a single right answer, specific instructional objectives should be written as follows:


      1. Given 10 problems involving addition of two fractions with like denominators, students will solve at least 9 correctly.
      2. Given 10 sentences lacking verbs, students will correctly choose verbs that agree in number in at least 8 sentences. Examples: My cat and I birthdays in May. Each of us [want, wants] to go to college.
      3. Given a 4-meter rope attached to the ceiling, students will be able to climb to the top in less than 20 seconds.
      4. Some material, of course, does not lend itself to such specific instructional objectives, and it would be a mistake in such cases to adhere to objectives that have numerical criteria. For example, the following objective could be written:


        1. The student will list at least five similarities and five differences between the situation of immigrants to the United States in the early 1900s and that of immigrants today.
        2. In an essay the student will compare and contrast the situation of immigrants to the United States in the early 1900s and that of immigrants today.


      1. This general instructional objective would allow students more flexibility in expressing their understanding of the topic and would promote comprehension rather than memorization of lists of similarities and differences.


    1. WRITING CLEAR OBJECTIVES Instructional objectives should be specific enough to be meaningful. For example, an objective concerning immigrants might be written as follows: Students will develop a full appreciation for the diversity of peoples who have contributed to the development of U.S. society. This sounds nice, but what does “full appreciation” mean? Such an objective neither helps the teacher prepare lessons nor helps students understand what is to be taught and how they will be assessed. Mager (1975, p. 20) lists more slippery and less slippery words used to describe instructional objectives:
      • Words Open to Many Interpretations
        to know
        to understand
        to appreciate
        to fully appreciate
        to grasp the significance
      • Words Open to Fewer Interpretations
        to write
        to recite
        to identify
        to sort
        to solve
    2. PERFORMING A TASK ANALYSIS In planning lessons, it is important to consider the skills required in the tasks to be taught or assigned. For example, a teacher might ask students to use the school library to write a brief report on a topic of interest. The task seems straightforward enough, but consider the separate skills involved:


      • Knowing alphabetical order
      • Using the card catalog to find books on a subject
      • Using a book index to find information on a topic
      • Getting the main idea from expository material
      • Planning or outlining a brief report
      • Writing expository paragraphs
      • Knowing language mechanics skills (such as capitalization, punctuation, and usage)


      1. These skills could themselves be broken down into subskills. The teacher must be aware of the subskills involved in any learning task to be certain that students know what they need to know to succeed. Before assigning the library report task, the teacher would need to be sure that students knew how to use the card catalog and book indexes, among other things, and could comprehend and write expository material.
      2. Similarly, in teaching a new skill, it is important to consider all the subskills that go into it. Think of all the separate steps involved in long division, in writing chemical formulas, or in identifying topic sentences and supporting details.
      3. This process of breaking tasks or objectives down into their simpler components is called task analysis. In planning a lesson, a three-step process for task analysis may be used:


        1. Identify prerequisite skills. What should students already know before you teach the lesson? For example, for a lesson on long division, students must know their subtraction, multiplication, and division facts and must be able to subtract and multiply with renaming.
        2. Identify component skills. In the actual lesson, what subskills must students be taught before they can learn to achieve the larger objective? To return to the long-division example, students will need to learn estimating, dividing, multiplying, subtracting, checking, bringing down the next digit, and then repeating the process. Each of these steps must be planned for, taught, and assessed during the lesson.
        3. Plan how component skills will be assembled into the final skill. The final step in task analysis is to assemble the subskills back into the complete process being taught. For example, students might be able to estimate, to divide, and to multiply, but this does not necessarily mean that they can do long division. The sub-skills must be integrated into a complete process that students can understand and practice.


    1. BACKWARD PLANNING Just as lesson objectives are more than the sum of specific task objectives, the objectives of a course of study are more than the sum of specific lesson objectives. For this reason it makes sense to start by writing broad objectives for the course as a whole, then objectives for large units, and only then specific behavioral objectives. This is known as backward planning.
    2. Linking objectives and assessment


      1. Because instructional objectives are stated in terms of how they will be measured, it is clear that objectives are closely linked to assessment. An assessment is any measure of the degree to which students have learned the objectives set out for them. Most assessments in schools are tests or quizzes, or informal verbal assessments such as questions in class.
      2. One critical principle of assessment is that assessments and objectives must be clearly linked. Students learn some proportion of what they are taught; the greater the overlap between what was taught and what is tested, the better students will score on the test and the more accurately any need for additional instruction can be determined.
      3. One way to specify objectives for a course is to actually prepare test questions before the course begins. This allows the teacher to write general teaching objectives (clear statements of what students are expected to learn through instruction) and then to clarify them with very specific learning objectives (specific behaviors students are expected to exhibit at the end of a series of lessons).


    1. Using taxonomies of instructional objectives


      1. In writing objectives and assessments, it is important to consider different skills and different levels of understanding. For example, in a science lesson on insects for second-graders, you might want to impart both information (the names of various insects) and an attitude (the importance of insects to the ecosystem). In other subjects you might try to convey facts and concepts that differ by type.
      2. BLOOM’S TAXONOMY In 1956, Benjamin Bloom and some fellow researchers published a taxonomy of educational objectives that has been extremely influential in the research and practice of education ever since. Bloom and his colleagues categorized objectives from simple to complex or from factual to conceptual. The key elements of what is commonly called Bloom’s taxonomy.


        1. Knowledge (recalling information): The lowest level of objectives in Bloom’s hierarchy, knowledge refers to objectives such as memorizing math facts or formulas, scientific principles, or verb conjugations.
        2. Comprehension (translating, interpreting, or extrapolating information): Comprehension objectives require that students show an understanding of information as well as the ability to use it. Examples include interpreting the meaning of a diagram, graph, or parable; inferring the principle underlying a science experiment; and predicting what might happen next in a story.
        3. Application (using principles or abstractions to solve novel or real-life problems): Application objectives require students to use knowledge or principles to solve practical problems. Examples include using geometric principles to figure Out how many gallons of water to put into a swimming pool of given dimensions and using knowledge of the relationship between temperature and pressure to explain why a balloon is larger on a hot day than on a cold day.
        4. Analysis (breaking down complex information or ideas into simpler parts to understand how the parts relate or are organized): Analysis objectives involve having students see the underlying structure of complex information or ideas. Examples of analysis objectives include contrasting schooling in the United States with education in Japan, understanding how the functions of the carburetor and distributor are related in an automobile engine, and identifying the main idea of a short story.
        5. Synthesis (creation of something that did not exist before): Synthesis objectives involve using skills to create completely new products. Examples include writing a composition, deriving a mathematical rule, designing a science experiment to solve a problem, and making up a new sentence in a foreign language.
        6. Evaluation (judging something against a given standard): Evaluation objectives require making value judgments against some criterion or standard. For example, students might be asked to compare the strengths and weaknesses of two home computers in terms of flexibility, power, and available software.


      1. The primary importance of Bloom’s taxonomy is in its reminder that we want students to have many levels of skills. All too often, teachers focus on measurable knowledge and comprehension objectives and forget that students cannot be considered proficient in many skills until they can apply or synthesize those skills. On the other side of the coin, some teachers fail to make certain that students are well rooted in the basics before heading off into higher-order objectives.


    1. USING A BEHAVIOR CONTENT MATRIX One way to be sure that your objectives cover many levels is to write a behavior content matrix. This is simply a chart that shows how a particular concept or skill will be taught and assessed at different cognitive levels.


      1. Some topics do not lend themselves to some levels of the taxonomy, and there is no reason that every level should be covered for every topic.
      2. However, using a behavior content matrix in setting objectives forces you to consider objectives above the knowledge and comprehension levels.


    1. AFFECTIVE OBJECTIVES Learning facts and skills is not the only important goal of instruction. Sometimes the feelings that students have about a subject or about their own skills are at least as important as how much information they learn. Instructional goals related to attitudes and values are called affective objectives. Many people would argue that a principal purpose of a U.S. history or civics course is to promote values of patriotism and civic responsibility, and one purpose of any mathematics course is to give students confidence in their ability to use mathematics. In planning instruction, it is important to consider affective as well as cognitive objectives.
    2. Research on instructional objectives


      1. Three principal reasons are given for writing instructional objectives. One is that this exercise helps to organize the teacher’s planning. As Mager (1975) puts it, if you’re not sure where you’re going, you’re liable to end up someplace else and not even know it. Another is that establishing instructional objectives helps to guide evaluation. Finally, it is hypothesized that development of instructional objectives improves student achievement.


        1. It is important to make sure that instructional objectives that are communicated to students are broad enough to encompass everything the lesson or course is supposed to teach. There is some danger that giving students too narrow a set of objectives might focus them on some information to the exclusion of other facts and concepts.
        2. Perhaps the most convincing support for the establishment of clear instructional objectives is indirect. Cooley and Leinhardt (1980) found that the strongest single factor predicting student reading and math scores was the degree to which students were actually taught the skills that were tested.


          1. This implies that instruction is effective to the degree to which objectives, teaching, and assessment are coordinated with one another.
          2. Specification of clear instructional objectives is the first step in ensuring that classroom instruction is directed toward giving students critical skills, those that are important enough to test.


  1. Why is evaluation important?


    1. Evaluation, or assessment, refers to all the means used in schools to formally measure student performance (Weber, 1999; Wiggins, 1999). These include quizzes and tests, written evaluations, and grades. Student evaluation usually focuses on academic achievement, but many schools also assess behaviors and attitudes.


      1. Many elementary schools provide descriptions of students’ behavior (such as “follows directions,” “listens attentively,” “works with others,” “uses time wisely”).
      2. In upper elementary, middle, and high school the prevalence of behavior reports diminishes successively, but even many high schools rate students on such criteria as “works up to ability,” “is prepared,” and “is responsible.”


    1. Why do teachers use tests and grades? They use them because, one way or another, they must periodically check and communicate about students’ learning. Tests and grades tell teachers, students, and parents how students are doing in school.


      1. Teachers can use tests to determine whether their instruction was effective and to find out which students need additional help. Students can use tests to find out whether their studying strategies are paying off.
      2. Parents need grades to learn how their children are doing in school; grades usually serve as the one consistent form of communication between school and home.
      3. Ultimately, colleges use grades and standardized test scores to decide whom to admit and employers use grade-based evidence of attainment such as diplomas and other credentials in hiring decisions. Teachers must therefore evaluate student learning; few would argue otherwise. Fortunately, research on the use of tests finds that students learn more in courses that use tests than in those that do not.


    1. Student evaluations serve six primary purposes:


      1. Feedback to students
      2. Feedback to teachers
      3. Information to parents
      4. Information for selection and certification
      5. Information for accountability
      6. Incentives to increase student effort


    1. Evaluation as feedback


      1. Students need to know the results of their efforts. Regular evaluation gives them feedback on their strengths and weaknesses. To be useful as feedback, evaluations should be as specific as possible. For example, Cross and Cross (1980/81) found that students who received written feedback in addition to letter grades were more likely than other students to believe that their efforts, rather than luck or other external factors, determined their success in school.
      2. FEEDBACK TO TEACHERS One of the most important (and often overlooked) functions of evaluating student learning is to provide feedback to teachers on the effectiveness of their instruction.


        1. Teachers cannot expect to be optimally effective if they do not know whether students have grasped the main points of their lessons.
        2. Asking questions in class and observing students as they work gives the teacher some idea of how well students have learned; but in many subjects brief, frequent quizzes, writing assignments, and other student products are necessary to provide more detailed indications of students’ progress.


    1. Evaluation as information


      1. A report card is called a report card because it reports information on student progress. This reporting function of evaluation is important for several reasons.


        1. INFORMATION TO PARENTS First, routine school evaluations of many kinds (test scores, stars, and certificates as well as report card grades) keep parents informed about their children’s schoolwork. For example, if a student’s grades are dropping, the parents might know why and might be able to help the student get back on track. Second, grades and other evaluations set up informal home based reinforcement systems.
        2. IN FORMATION FOR SELECTION Some sociologists see the sorting of students into societal roles as a primary purpose of schools: If schools do not actually determine who will be a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker, they do substantially influence who will be a laborer, a skilled worker, a white-collar worker, or a professional. This sorting function takes place gradually over years of schooling.


          1. In the early grades, students are sorted into reading groups and, in many cases, into tracks that might remain stable over many years. Tracking becomes more widespread and systematic by junior high or middle school, when students begin to be selected into different courses.
          2. For example, some ninth-graders are allowed to take Algebra I while others take pre-algebra or general mathematics. In high school, students are often steered toward college preparatory, general, or vocational tracks or toward advanced, basic, or remedial levels of particular courses; and of course a major sorting takes place when students are accepted into various colleges and training programs.


        1. Closely related to selection is certification, a use of tests to qualify students for promotion or for access to various occupations. For example, many states and local districts have minimum competency tests that students must pass to advance from grade to grade or to graduate from high school. Bar exams for lawyers, board examinations for medical students, and tests for teachers such as the National Teachers’ Examination are examples of certification tests that control access to professions.
        2. INFORMATION FOR ACCOUNTABILITY Often, evaluations of students serve as data for the evaluation of teachers, schools, districts, or even states.


          1. Every state has some form of statewide testing program that allows the states to rank every school in terms of student performance.
          2. In addition to state tests, school districts often use tests for similar purposes (for example, in grades not tested by the state). These test scores are also often used in evaluations of principals, teachers, and superintendents. Consequently, these tests are taken very seriously.


    1. Evaluation as incentive


      1. One important use of evaluations is to motivate students to give their best efforts. In essence, high grades, stars, and prizes are given as rewards for good work. Students value grades and prizes primarily because their parents value them. Some high school students also value grades because they are important for getting into selective colleges.
      2. Natriello and Dornbusch (1984) have suggested criteria that must be satisfied if evaluations are to increase student effort. An adaptation of their criteria follows.


        1. Important evaluations: Evaluations are effective to the degree that they are important to students. For example, grades will be less effective as incentives for students whose parents pay little attention to their grades. They will be more effective for students who are planning to go to competitive colleges (which require high grades for admission).
        2. Soundly based evaluations: Evaluations must be closely related to a student’s actual performance. Students must believe that evaluations are honest, objective measures of their performance. To the degree that students believe that they can outfox the system and get away with shoddy efforts or that the system is rigged against them, evaluations will have little impact on the students’ efforts. Students should have every opportunity to show what they really know and can do on tests.
        3. Consistent standards: Evaluations will be effective to the degree that students perceive them to be fair and equal for all students. For example, if students believe that some of their classmates are evaluated more leniently than others, this will reduce the effectiveness of the evaluation system.
        4. Clear criteria: The criteria for success must be clear to students; in other words, students should know precisely what they must do to obtain a good grade or other positive evaluation.
        5. Reliable interpretations of evaluations: Appropriate interpretations must be made clear. Students often interpret evaluations (and their own efforts) in light of social contexts. For example, some students believe that doing any homework at all shows a high level of effort when their classmates are doing none, or that a C is a good grade when many of their classmates are failing.
        6. Frequent evaluations: There is evidence that the more frequently evaluations take place, the more students generally achieve. Frequent, brief quizzes are better than infrequent, long tests. Quizzes require that students pay attention all the time rather than cram for the occasional exam; they give students more timely feedback; and they provide recognition for hard work closer in time to when the work was done.
        7. Challenging evaluations: Evaluations should be challenging for all students but impossible for none. This might be done by evaluating students according to their improvement over their own past performance, a strategy that has been found to increase their achievement. Evaluation systems should be set up to encourage students always to be reaching for success, just as runners set goals for finishing a mile a little bit faster than their previous best time.


  1. How is student learning evaluated?


    1. To understand how assessments can be used most effectively in classroom instruction, it is important to know the differences between formative and summative evaluation and between norm-referenced and criterion-referenced interpretation.
    2. Formative and summative evaluations a) The distinction between formative and summative evaluations was explained in the discussion of mastery learning in Chapter 9, but this distinction also applies to a broader range of evaluation issues. Essentially, a formative evaluation asks, “How well are you doing and how can you be doing better?” A summative evaluation asks, “How well did you do?” Formative, or diagnostic, tests are given to discover strengths and weaknesses in learning and to make midcourse corrections in pace or content of instruction. Formative evaluations might even be made “on the fly” during instruction through oral or brief written learning probes. b) In contrast, summative evaluation refers to tests of student knowledge at the end of instructional units (such as final exams). Summative evaluations may or may not be frequent, but they must be reliable and (in general) should allow for comparisons among students. Summative evaluations should also be closely tied to formative evaluations and to course objectives.
    3. Norm-referenced and criterion-referenced evaluations


      1. Norm-referenced interpretations focus on comparisons of a student’s scores with those of other students. Within a classroom, for example, grades commonly are used to give teachers an idea of how well a student has performed in comparison with classmates. A student might also have a grade-level or school rank; and in standardized testing, student scores might be compared with those of a nationally representative norm group.
      2. Criterion-referenced interpretations focus on assessing students’ mastery of specific skills, regardless of how other students did on the same skills. Criterion-referenced evaluations are best if they are closely tied to specific objectives or well-specified domains of the curriculum being taught.


        1. Formative evaluation is almost always criterion-referenced. In formative testing, teachers want to know, for example, who is having trouble with Newton’s laws of thermodynamics, not which student is first, fifteenth, or thirtieth in the class in physics knowledge.
        2. Summative testing, in contrast, be either criterion-referenced or norm-referenced.


    1. Matching evaluation strategies with goals


      1. Considering all the factors discussed up to this point, what is the best strategy for evaluating students? The first answer is that there is no one best strategy. The best means of accomplishing any one objective of evaluation might be inappropriate for other objectives.


        1. Therefore, teachers must choose different types of evaluation for different purposes.
        2. At a minimum, two types of evaluation should be used: one directed at providing incentive and feedback and the other directed at ranking individual students relative to the larger group.


    1. EVALUATION FOR INCENTIVE AND FEEDBACK Traditional grades are often inadequate as incentives to encourage students to give their best efforts and as feedback to teachers and students. The principal problem is that grades are given too infrequently, are too far removed in time from student performance, and are poorly tied to specific student behaviors.


      1. Another reason that grades are less than ideal as incentives is that they are usually based on comparative standards. In effect, it is relatively easy for high-ability students to achieve A’s and B’s but very difficult for low achievers to do so. As a result, some high achievers do less work than they are capable of doing, and some low achievers give up.
      2. For these reasons, traditional grades should be supplemented by evaluations that are better designed for incentive and feedback. For example, teachers might give daily quizzes of 5 or 10 items that are scored in class immediately after completion, or they might have students write daily “mini-essays” on a topic the class is studying. These give both students and teachers the information they need to adjust their teaching and learning strategies and to rectify any deficiencies revealed by the evaluations.


    1. EVALUATION FOR COMPARISON WITH OTHERS Comparative evaluations are traditionally provided by grades and by standardized tests.


      1. Unlike incentive/feedback evaluations, comparative evaluations need not be conducted frequently. Rather, the emphasis in comparative evaluations must be on fair, unbiased, reliable assessment of student performance.
      2. Comparative evaluations should assess what students can do and nothing else. Student grades should be based primarily on demonstrated knowledge of the course content, not on politeness, good behavior, neatness, or punctuality, because the purpose of a grade is to give an accurate assessment of student attainment, not to reward or punish.


  1. How are tests constructed?


    1. Principles of achievement testing


      1. Achievement tests should measure clearly defined learning objectives that are in harmony with instructional objectives. Perhaps the most important principle of achievement testing is that the tests should correspond with the course objectives and with the instruction that is actually provided.
      2. Achievement tests should measure a representative sample of the learning tasks included in the instruction. With rare exceptions (such as multiplication facts), achievement tests do not assess every skill or fact students are supposed to have learned. Rather, they sample from among all the learning objectives. If students do not know in advance what questions will be on a test, then they must study the entire course content to do well.
      3. Achievement tests should include the types of test items that are most appropriate for measuring the desired learning outcomes. Items on achievement tests should correspond as closely as possible to the ultimate instructional objectives.
      4. Achievement tests should fit the particular uses that will be made of the results. Each type of achievement test has its own requirements. For example, a test that is used for diagnosis would focus on particular skills with which students might need help. A diagnostic test of elementary arithmetic might contain items on subtraction involving zeros in the minuend (e.g., 307 minus 127), a skill with which many students have trouble. In contrast, a test that is used to predict future performance might assess a student’s general abilities and breadth of knowledge.
      5. Achievement tests should be as reliable as possible and should be interpreted with caution. A test is reliable to the degree that students who were tested a second time would fall in the same rank order. In general, writers of achievement tests increase reliability by using relatively large numbers of items and by using few items that almost all students get right or that almost all students miss.
      6. Achievement tests should improve learning. Achievement tests of all kinds, particularly formative tests, provide important information on students’ learning progress. Achievement testing should be seen as part of the instructional process and should be used to improve instruction and guide student learning. This means that achievement test results should be clearly communicated to students soon after the test is taken; in the case of formative testing, students should be given the results immediately.


    1. Using a table of specifications


      1. The first step in the test development process is to decide which concept domains the test will measure and how many test items will be allocated to each concept. Grorilund (2000) and Bloom, Hastings, and Madaus (1971) suggest that teachers make up a table of specifications for each instructional unit listing the various objectives taught and different levels of understanding to be assessed. The levels of understanding might correspond to Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives.
      2. The table of specifications varies for each type of course and is nearly identical to behavior content matrixes, discussed earlier in this chapter. This is as it should be; a behavior content matrix is used to lay out objectives for a course, and the table of specifications tests those objectives.
      3. Once you have written items corresponding to your table of specifications, look over the test in its entirety and evaluate it against the following standards:


        1. Do the items emphasize the same things you emphasized in day-to-day instruction?
        2. Has an important area of content or any objective been overlooked or under-emphasized?
        3. Does the test cover all levels of instructional objectives included in the lessons?
        4. Does the language of the items correspond to the language and reading level you used in the lessons?
        5. Is there a reasonable balance between what the items measure and the amount of time that will be required for students to develop a response?
        6. Did you write model answers or essential component outlines for the short essay items? Does the weighting of each item reflect its relative value among all the other items?


    1. Writing selected-response test items


      1. Test items that can be scored correct or incorrect without the need for interpretation are referred to as selected-response items. Multiple-choice, true-false, and matching items are the most common forms. Note that the correct answer appears on the test and the student’s task is to select it. There is no ambiguity about whether the student has or has not selected the correct answer.
      2. MULTIPLE-CHOICE ITEMS Considered by some educators to be the most useful and flexible of all test forms, multiple-choice items can be used in tests for most school subjects.


        1. The basic form of the multiple-choice item is a stem followed by choices, or alternatives. The stem maybe a question or a partial statement that is completed by one of several choices. No truly optimum number of choices exists, but four or five are most common-one correct response and others that are referred to as distractors.
        2. When writing a multiple-choice item, keep two goals in mind. First, a capable student should be able to choose the correct answer and not be distracted by the wrong alternatives. Second, you should minimize the chance that a student who is ignorant of the subject matter can guess the correct answer. To achieve this, the distractors (the wrong choices; also sometimes called foils) must look plausible to the uninformed; their wording and form must not identify them readily as bad answers.


      1. TRUE-FALSE ITEMS True-false items can be seen as one form of multiple-choice. The main drawback of true-false items is that students have a 50 percent chance of guessing correctly. But in compensation, students can respond to them more quickly and so they can cover a broad range of content efficiently.


        1. In writing true-false items, it is well to bear in mind the suggestions for multiple-choice items. Each item should be clear, express only one concept, and not be an expression of opinion.
        2. Specific determiners (such as always and never) are especially important to avoid in true-false items; students can sometimes answer virtually an entire set of items correctly using them when a naïve teacher writes the test.


      1. MATCHING ITEMS Matching items are commonly presented in the form of two lists, say A and B. For each item in list A, the student has to select one item in list B. The basis for choosing must be clearly explained in the directions.


        1. Matching items can be used to cover a large amount of content; that is, a large (but not unmanageably so) number of concepts should appear in the two lists.
        2. Each list should cover related content (use more than one set of matching items for different types of material). The primary cognitive skill that matching exercises test is recall.
        3. Matching items can often be answered by elimination because many teachers maintain a one-to-one correspondence between the two lists. To engage students in the content, not the format, teachers should either include more items in list B than in list A or allow re-use of the items in list B.


    1. Writing constructed-response items


      1. Constructed-response items require the student to supply rather than to select the answer. They also usually require some degree of judgment in scoring. The simplest form is fill-in-the-blank items, which can often be written to reduce or eliminate ambiguity in scoring.
      2. Still, unanticipated responses might lead to ambiguous answers, causing questions in the mind of the instructor on how to score. Constructed response items also come in short and long essay forms.


        1. FILL-IN-THE-BLANK ITEMS When there is clearly only one possible correct answer, an attractive format is completion, or “fill in the blank.”
        2. It is critical to avoid ambiguity in completion items. In some subject areas this can be difficult, because two or more answers will reasonably fit a fragment that does not specify the context.


    1. Writing and evaluating essay tests


      1. Short essay questions allow students to respond in their own words. The most common form for a short essay item includes a question for the student to answer. The answer may range from a sentence or two to a page of, say, 100 to 150 words. A long essay item requires more length and more time, allowing greater opportunity for students to demonstrate organization and development of ideas. Although they differ in length, the methods available to write and score them are similar.


        1. The essay form can elicit a wide variety of responses, from giving definitions of terms to comparing and contrasting important concepts or events. These items are especially suited for assessing students’ ability to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate.
        2. One of the crucial mistakes teachers make in writing essay items is failing to specify clearly the approximate detail required in the response and its expected length. Stating how much weight an item has relative to the entire test is generally not sufficient to tell students how much detail must be incorporated in a response.
        3. An essay item should contain specific information that students are to address. Some teachers are reluctant to name the particulars that they wish the student to discuss, because they believe that supplying a word or phrase in the instructions is giving away too much information.


      1. Essay items have a number of advantages in addition to letting students state ideas in their own words. Essay items are not susceptible to correct guesses. They can be used to measure creative abilities, such as writing talent or imagination in constructing hypothetical events. Essay items might require students to combine several concepts in their response. They can assess organization and fluency.
      2. On the negative side is the problem of reliability in scoring essay responses. Some studies demonstrate that independent marking of the same essay response by several teachers results in appraisals ranging from excellent to a failing grade. This gross difference in evaluations indicates a wide range of marking criteria and standards among teachers of similar backgrounds.


        1. A second drawback of essay items is that essay responses take considerable time to evaluate. The time you might have saved by writing one essay item instead of several other kinds of items must be paid back in grading the essays.
        2. Third, essay items in general take considerable response time from students. Consequently, they typically cannot be used to cover broad ranges of content. Nevertheless, essay items allow teachers the opportunity to see how well students can use the material they have been taught. Breadth is sacrificed for depth. Here are some additional suggestions for writing essay items:


          1. As with any item format, match the items with the instructional objectives.
          2. Do not use such general directives in an item as “discuss,” “give your opinion about. . . ,” “tell all you know about.. . .” Rather, carefully choose specific response verbs such as “compare,” “contrast,” “identify,” “list and define,” and “explain the difference.”
          3. Write a response to the item before you give the test to estimate the time students will need to respond. About 4 times the teacher’s time is a fair estimate.
          4. Rewrite the item to point students clearly toward that response.
          5. Require all students to answer all items. Although it seems attractive to allow student choice in which items to answer, that is fundamentally an unfair practice. First, students differ in their ability to make the best selections. Second, the items will not be of equivalent difficulty. And third, some students who know they will have a choice can increase their score by studying very carefully only part of the material.


        1. After writing an essay item-and clearly specifying the content that is to be included in the response-you must have a clear idea of how you will score various elements of a student’s response. Of course, you want to use the same standards and criteria for all students’ responses to that item.


          1. The first step is to write a model response or a detailed outline of the essential elements students are being directed to include in their responses. You will compare students’ responses to this model.
          2. If you intend to use evaluative comments but no letter grades, your outline or model will serve as a guide for pointing out to students the omissions and errors in their responses, as well as the good points of their answers.


        1. If possible, you should ask a colleague to assess the validity of the elements and their weights in your model response. Going a bit further and having the colleague apply the model criteria to one or more student responses could increase the reliability of your scoring. Be sure to offer to do the same for them!


    1. Writing and evaluating problem-solving items


      1. A problem-solving assessment requires students to organize, select, and apply complex procedures that have at least several important steps or components. As in evaluating short essay items, you should begin your preparation for appraising problem-solving responses by writing either a model response or, perhaps more practically, an outline of the essential components or procedures that are involved in problem solving. As with essays, problem-solving responses may take several different yet valid approaches. The outline must be flexible enough to accommodate all valid possibilities.


  1. What are authentic, portfolio, and performance assessments?


    1. After much criticism of standardized testing, critics have developed and implemented alternative assessment systems that are designed to avoid the problems of typical multiple-choice tests. The key idea behind the testing alternatives is that students should be asked to document their learning or demonstrate that they can actually do something real with the information and skills they have learned in school.


      1. For example, students might be asked to keep a portfolio, design a method of measuring wind speed, draw a scale model of a racing car, or write something for a real audience. Such tests are referred to as authentic assessments or performance assessments.


        1. One goal of these “alternative assessments” is to demonstrate achievement in realistic contexts. In reading, for example, the authentic assessment movement has led to the development of tests in which students are asked to read and interpret longer sections and show their metacognitive awareness of reading strategies.
        2. In science, authentic assessments might involve having students set up and carry out an experiment. In writing, students might be asked to write real letters or newspaper articles. In math, students might solve complex physical problems that require insight and creativity.


    1. Portfolio assessment


      1. One popular form of alternative assessment is called portfolio assessment: the collection and evaluation of samples of student work over an extended period. Teachers may collect student compositions, projects, and other evidence of higher-order functioning and use this evidence to evaluate student progress over time.


        1. For example, many teachers have students maintain portfolios of their writings that show the development of a composition from first draft to final product, journal entries, book reports, artwork, computer printouts, or papers showing development in problem solving.
        2. Portfolios are increasingly being maintained in computers to supplement paper files.


      1. Portfolio assessment has important uses when teachers want to evaluate students for reports to parents or other within-school purposes. When combined with a consistent and public rubric, portfolios showing improvement over time can provide powerful evidence of change to parents and to students themselves.


        1. However, innovators have also proposed that portfolio assessment be used as part of assessments for school accountability. This use is more controversial, as a student’s product can often be greatly influenced by his or her teacher’s or classmates’ input.
        2. Also, evidence about the reliability of portfolio assessment scoring is largely disappointing. Different raters can give very different ratings of the same portfolios.


    1. Performance assessment


      1. Tests that involve actual demonstrations of knowledge or skills in real life are called performance assessments. For example, ninth-graders might be asked to conduct an oral history project, reading about a significant recent event and then interviewing the individuals involved.


        1. The quality of the oral histories, done over a period of weeks, would indicate the degree of the students’ mastery of the social studies concepts involved.
        2. A model for performance assessment is the doctoral thesis, an extended project required for Ph.D. candidates that is intended to show not only what students know, but also what they can do. Driver’s tests, tests for pilots’ licenses, and performance tests in medicine are also common examples of performance assessments.


      1. Performance assessments are far more expensive than traditional multiple-choice measures, but most experts and policy makers are coming to agree that the investment is worthwhile if it produces markedly better tests and therefore leads to better teaching and learning.


    1. Scoring rubrics for performance assessments


      1. Performance assessments are typically scored according to rubrics that specify in advance the type of performance that is expected for each activity. Performance assessments tasks are similar to essay items in that students might approach them in multiple ways. It is therefore also important for performance assessments that the criteria for scoring be understood by students. One way to do this is to write a few generic rubrics that are flexible enough to apply to the full range of student performance.


  1. How are grades determined?


    1. Many sets of grading criteria exist, but regardless of the level of school that teachers teach in, they generally agree on the need to explain the meaning of grades they give. Grades should communicate at least the relative value of a student’s work in a class. They should also help students to understand better what is expected of them and how they might improve. Teachers and schools that use letter grades attach the following general meanings to the letters:


      1. A = superior; exceptional; outstanding attainment
      2. B = very good, but not superior; above average
      3. C = competent, but not remarkable work or performance; average
      4. D = minimum passing, but serious weaknesses are indicated; below average
      5. F = failure to pass; serious weaknesses demonstrated


    1. Assigning letter grades


      1. All school districts have a policy or common practice for assigning report card grades. Most use A-B-C-D-F or A-B-C-D-E letter grades, but many (particularly at the elementary school level) use various versions of outstanding-satisfactory-unsatisfactory. Some simply report percentage grades.
      2. The criteria for giving letter grades might be specified by a school administration, but grading criteria are most often set by individual teachers using very broad guidelines. In practice, few teachers could get away with giving half their students A’s or with failing too many students; but between these two extremes, teachers may have considerable leeway.


    1. ABSOLUTE GRADING STANDARDS Grades maybe given according to absolute or relative standards. Absolute grading standards might consist of preestablished percentage scores required for a given grade.


      1. In another form of absolute standards, called criterion-referenced grading, the teacher decides in advance what performances constitute outstanding (A), above-average (B), average (C), below-average (D), and inadequate (F) mastery of the instructional objective.
      2. Absolute percentage standards have one important disadvantage: Student scores might depend on the difficulty of the tests they are given. For example, a student can pass a true-false test (if a passing grade is 60 percent) by knowing only 20 percent of the answers and guessing on the rest (getting 50 percent of the remaining 80 percent of the items by chance). On a difficult test on which guessing is impossible, however, 60 percent could be a very high score. For this reason, use of absolute percentage criteria should be tempered with criterion-referenced standards.


    1. RELATIVE GRADING STANDARDS A relative grading standard exists whenever a teacher gives grades according to the students’ rank in their class or grade. The classic form of relative grading is specifying what percentage of students will be given A’s, B’s, and so on. A form of this practice is called grading on the curve, because students are given grades on the basis of their position on a predetermined distribution of scores.


      1. Strict grading on the curve and guidelines for numbers of A’s and B’s have been disappearing in recent years. For one thing, there has been a general grade inflation; more A’s and B’s are given now than in the past, and C is no longer the expected average grade but often indicates below-average performance.


    1. Performance grading


      1. One of the most important limitations of traditional grades is that while they might give some indication of how students are doing in comparison to others, they provide no information about what students know and can do. A student who gets a B in English might be disappointed or breathe a sigh of relief, depending on what she expected.
      2. However, this grade does not tell her or her parents or teachers what she can do, what she needs to do to progress, or where her strengths or weaknesses are. Furthermore, giving a single grade in each subject can reinforce the idea that students are more able or less able, or perhaps more motivated or less motivated, rather than the idea that all students are growing.
      3. One response to these limitations that is used in some schools is an alternative approach to grading called performance grading. In performance grading, teachers determine what children know and can do and then report this in a way that is easy for parents and students to understand.
      4. SCORING RIJBRICS FOR PERFORMANCE GRADING A key requirement for the use of performance grading is collection of work samples from students that indicate their level of performance on a developmental sequence. Collecting and evaluating work that students are already doing in class (such as compositions, lab reports, or projects) is called portfolio assessment.


    1. Other alternative grading systems


      1. Several other approaches to grading are used in conjunction with innovative instructional approaches. In contract grading, students negotiate a particular amount of work or level of performance that they will achieve to receive a certain grade


        1. For example, a student might agree to complete five book reports of a given length in a marking period to receive an A. Mastery grading, an important part of mastery learning, involves establishing a standard of mastery, such as 80 or 90 percent correct on a test.
        2. All students who achieve that standard receive an A; students who do not achieve it the first time receive corrective instruction and then retake the test to try to achieve the mastery criterion.
        3. Finally, many teachers give grades based on improvement or effort usually in combination with traditional grades. In this way a student who is performing at a low level relative to others can nevertheless receive feedback indicating that he or she is on a path leading to higher performance.


      1. LETTING STUDENTS RETAKE TESTS Many teachers allow students to retake tests, especially if they failed the first time. This can be a good idea if it gives students an opportunity to do additional studying and master the material the class is studying.
      2. Sometimes a student’s performance on a test or a quiz seems unusually poor for him or her. Such atypical assessments might be due to nonacademic reasons such as a disruption at home or in school. Indeed, a private conversation with the student about the test or quiz might uncover a problem that should be looked into and the student might be given an opportunity to re-take the test.


    1. Assigning report card grades


      1. Most schools give report cards four or six times per year, that is, every 6 or 9 weeks. Report card grades are most often derived from some combination of the following factors:


        1. Scores on quizzes and tests
        2. Scores on papers and projects
        3. Scores on homework
        4. Scores on seatwork
        5. Class participation (academic behaviors in class, answers to class questions, and so on)
        6. Deportment (classroom behavior, tardiness, attitude)
        7. Effort.


      1. These are listed in order from most formal and reliable measures of achievement to least valid as a learning indicator. The first two are summative assessments and virtually everyone would consider them appropriate for grading. The next two are typically formative and thus indicate how learning is progressing when it is still incomplete. They are less appropriate since they do not convey information about status at the end of instructional units. The final three might contribute to achievement, but they are not achievement.
      2. Two important issues arise when scores are to be combined for grading. The first is how to treat missing information, such as homework assignments. Some teachers assign a “zero” to missing work. But a zero can be devastating (it is so far from even a passing grade that it is virtually impossible for the student to recover). This practice can only be viewed as punitive.
      3. A better strategy is to give an F or the equivalent for missing work. The second issue has to do with the relative emphases of the scores to be combined. If students do not differ much on one of the scores but differ markedly on another, in taking an average the differences among scores on the latter will swamp the former. Several ways exist to remedy this, but perhaps the simplest is to convert each to a reasonable set of numerical grades (e.g., A = 4, B = 3, etc.) separately, and then to take the average.
      4. One important principle in report card grading is that grades should never be a surprise. Students should always know how their grades will be computed, whether classwork and homework are included, and whether class participation and effort are taken into account. Being clear about standards for grading helps a teacher avert many complaints about unexpectedly low grades and, more important, lets students know exactly what they must do to improve their grades.
      5. An important principle is that grades should be private. There is no need for students to know one another’s grades; making grades public only invites invidious comparisons among students. Finally, it is important to restate that grades are only one method of student evaluation. Written evaluations that add information can provide useful information to parents and students.

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