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9 Steps for Writing Test Items that Make the Grade

[fa icon="calendar"] November, 2017 / by Stephen Murphy

Stephen Murphy

From classroom teachers to state policy makers, many educators are focused on creating and implementing meaningful assessments. Teachers and district leaders need items that support solid formative assessment practices. They want to use the evidence gathered from these items to inform decisions about instructional strategies, student groupings, and learning targets for individual students and groups. State policy makers and psychometricians focus more on long-range plans such as those to meet ESSA requirements. Suffice it to say, assessment is on educators’ minds.

How do you write effective assessment items?

As the head of Measurement Services for Measured Progress, I’m often asked to explain our process for developing high-quality assessment items.

To help answer that question, I developed a 9-step checklist to help you make sure that the assessment items you write effectively reveal what students know and can do. The checklist, originally published on TeachThought, covers these important steps:

  1. Pinpoint the purpose for developing the item.
  2. Determine the standard(s) to which the item should align.
  3. Identify the appropriate structure for the item.
  4. Target the item to the state’s Achievement Level Descriptors.
  5. Create strategic multiple-choice items.
  6. Eliminate barriers for students.
  7. Include all necessary supports for generating a response.
  8. Use engaging material.
  9. Make sure the students’ responses will provide the right kind of information.

You might be surprised that step 1 says to begin with the end in mind. Read the full article to understand why, and to learn how you can create items that deliver valid evidence about what your students know and can do. Plus, see the important Bonus Step that completes the process.

Additional resources

Get a recent infographic that explains elements of a strong assessment itemsuch as validity and authenticity.

If you’re creating or implementing locally developed assessments, our assessment experts can help you make sure they’re delivering the insights you need. The Assessment Services team works with you to make sure your test items make the grade. Learn more about how to use our team to extend your team’s assessment expertise.


Topics: Classroom Assessment, Assessment Literacy, College and Career Readiness, Connecting Teaching and Learning

Stephen Murphy

Written by Stephen Murphy

Dr. Stephen Murphy is Chief Assessment Officer for the newly merged AdvancED and Measured Progress. Leading Measured Progress's continued focus on meaningful, large-scale educational assessment, he oversees all aspects of assessment and research design, development, delivery, scoring, analysis, and reporting.