Determining Content and Cognitive Demand for Achievement Tests

Authored by: Marianne Perie , Kristen Huff

Handbook of Test Development

Print publication date:  November  2015
Online publication date:  October  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415626019
eBook ISBN: 9780203102961
Adobe ISBN: 9781136242571


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Toward the end of the 20th century, as state and federal accountability systems required reporting the percentage of students meeting a specified target on an examination, K–12 assessments necessarily moved to criterion-referenced specifications. This shift meant redesigning assessments that would discriminate reliably and validly among levels of performance rather than discriminate among students in a normative fashion. Changing the purpose and use of the assessments has slowly led to a conceptual adjustment in developing test specifications, focusing on the idea that the proficiency target and claims regarding the degree of student knowledge and skill should be the primary driver of all test design and task1 specification decisions. Thus, assessment design has moved from ensuring broad coverage of discrete content areas (e.g., numbers and operations, functions, measurement) and skill areas (e.g., identify, describe, analyze) to understanding exactly what educators or policy makers want to say about student knowledge and skills and then developing a set of items that elicit evidence to support such assertions. Test design is more clearly linked to the development of key knowledge and skills when we move away from a broader context of domain sampling to determine domain mastery and move closer to a more specified context of asking “where along this performance trajectory does this student most likely belong at this moment in time?” The performance trajectory is articulated via the performance level descriptions (PLDs), which are in turn informed by educator understanding of how students progress, research-based learning progressions and cognitive models of learning.

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