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Part 4: Build Your Own Assessment; Creating Effective Questions

Mar 08, 2013

David Kierski, an OnHand Schools senior level consultant, is writing a blog series about developing for your district a transition road map to the common core standards.

In this blog series, I have been walking you through how to create your own assessments. I started by Test Takingintroducing you to our crosswalk, a tool that makes the transition to Common Core a little bit easier. Next, I told you why writing your own assessments is crucial. Then, I told you that the best foundation for your assessments was the standards.

I then went a little more in-depth and gave you an article detailing how you can find content to include on your assessments. Hopefully you've been tracking with me, because this was all laying groundwork for the "meat and potatoes" of assessment-building: writing your own questions.

For me, actually writing the questions is one of the easier parts of making my own test. I specialize in creating reading assessments for grades three through eight, and I've found that if the content is rich enough, the questions practically write themselves. I'll give you my step-by-step approach.

This approach assumes that you've already found good content. We'll use Robert Frost's famous poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," and we'll say we're writing a test at the eighth-grade level using the PA Common Core standards, and that most of our questions will be multiple-choice questions.

As I said in my previous post, I'll usually copy and paste the assessment anchors I want to use right into my assessment document and use this as a guide. Let's say the anchor I'm writing a question for is:

"E08.A-K.1.1.3: Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story, drama, or poem propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision."

Since poetry is all about analysis, this would make a perfect anchor for this poem. Now, there are some techniques you can use to make sure your questions are both fair and don't inadvertently give away the answer. We've included the guidelines here as a helpful document you can use. I suggest you keep it close by as you're writing your questions.

Since the anchor requires us to talk about "particular lines," I need to have a line from the poem in my question. The main point of the poem is an unusual stop on an otherwise ordinary evening, so I'll focus on that:

What do the lines "My little horse must think it queer /To stop without a farmhouse near"best tell us about the speaker of the poem?

As you can see, this question is assessing how "particular lines... reveal aspects of a character." Now I have my question, I must write the four choices. I always write the correct answer first:

-The speaker doesn't usually stop like this

Now that I have the correct answer, I will write three more distracters:

-The speaker never feeds his horse

-The speaker is cold

-The speaker is traveling with other people

Make sure that the distracters aren't too obvious, and make sure that only one of them is correct. It can be difficult at first, but with practice it becomes second nature.

The last step is to put the question into its proper format. For the assessments I write, it looks like this:

1. What do the lines "My little horse must think it queer /To stop without a farmhouse near" best tell us about the speaker of the poem?

A. The speaker is cold

B. The speaker never feeds his horse

C. The speaker doesn't usually stop like this

D. The speaker is traveling with other people

And there you have it! Now all you have to do is write two dozen more, and you have a test!

How do you write your assessments? We're always looking for new methods and techniques to help educators everywhere excel at what they do. We'd love to hear your ideas!

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