ansrsource's Principles of Assessment
At all levels of education, we need to know what works and what doesn’t. We need to know who has achieved the relevant learning objectives and who isn’t there yet. For these reasons and others, assessment plays a vital role in every educational environment. A good assessment provides information about the knowledge possessed by the examinees and gives the examinees the chance to demonstrate what they have learned. Bad assessments are frustrating for the examinee, erode the test maker’s credibility, and waste valuable time.
It is easy to say that you can create high-quality assessments that meet the highest standards, but doing so is another matter. Assessment writing is a very specialized skill, and it is much harder than non-experts think it is. Even experience instructional designers and subject matter experts find it daunting or simply impossible. To meet this challenge, ansrsource is extremely selective in hiring and puts every academic author through a rigorous training program. That training program starts with the principles of assessment, the ideas that guide everything that we do. Here are those principles:
Focus on the learner:
At ansrsource we never forget the people who will answer our questions and the impact that test performance can have on their lives. We all know that people in general don’t want to take tests, but they still appreciate the difference between a good test and a bad one. At some point in our lives we have all taken tests that we thought were unclear, unfair, or just pointless. We remember how that felt, and we don’t want to inflict that experience on anyone else. It’s our job to give everyone a fair chance to succeed, and we take that responsibility very seriously.
Remember the instructor, too:
In many ways, the interests of the learners and the instructors overlap. Everyone wants good questions. But the instructor is typically looking for rigor, sophistication, and measures of higher-order thinking skills that go to the heart of the educational experience. At ansrsource, we know we need to meet those standards. We also know that bad questions have an even worse impact on instructors. A student will complain about a bad question once, but an instructor who assigns a bad question will get complaints from every student in the class.
Test relevant skills:
Good questions can help determine whether the learning objectives have been achieved. So the learning objectives tell us what we’re supposed to test. Sometimes, the learning objectives call for the learners to memorize information. In that case, it is legitimate to test whether they know key facts and details. But if the learning objectives call for higher-order thinking, then the questions need to test those higher-order skills. At ansrsource, we know what we’re testing, and we need to match our assessments to the goals of instructors all over the world.
It’s not enough to mean what you say; you should say what you mean. As much as possible, questions should not allow for reasonable interpretations that support different correct answers. This is harder than it sounds, since in everyday speaking and writing we allow for more interpretation than we can in the world of assessment. At ansrsource, we know that we won’t be in every classroom to explain what we meant, so it has to make sense on its own, for everyone.
No one who writes questions wants to be unfair, but we still have to be alert to keep questions free from gender, racial, religious, and cultural bias. We need to make sure that we don’t make invalid assumptions about our audience or require them to think exactly the same way we do.
Make assessments meaningful:
A meaningful assessment tells us something about the learner. A question that everyone (including people that have not studied the content) gets right is not a good question, because it does not indicate anything about the skill of the learner. Questions that everyone gets wrong have the same problem, and erode confidence as well. Of course, it is not enough that a significant proportion of learners get the question right and wrong. Those who answered it correctly should to know the subject matter better than those who answered it incorrectly, and that happens when there’s a close connection between the questions and the learning objectives.
These principles probably sound reasonable, but applying them is easier said than done. Still, framing the issues is a good first step in right direction. It’s easier to get to your destination if you know where you are trying to go.