When educators administer assessment tests, they anticipate that the tests will effectively gauge student learning. With this understanding, teachers can modify their instruction to support each student’s learning and success. The test items for an end-of-year assessment, for instance, should possess the following key qualities:

  • clear
  • rigorous
  • aligned with state standards
  • culturally sensitive and free from bias

Educators throughout the state of Florida learned to write test items that capture these critical elements through the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship (FJCC), a partnership between the Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government at the University of Central Florida and the Bob Graham Center for Public Service at the University of Florida. The organization’s mission is to promote the development of enlightened, responsible, and actively engaged citizens.

Partnering with the Assessment Design and Development team at WestEd, FJCC provided professional development on how to write test items for Civics360, a civics review tool that helps Florida students improve their civics understanding.

The Complexities of Developing Test Items

The item-writing process can be complex.

“One of the most challenging things about writing test items is understanding what content and skills are addressed by state standards and how the test items can be most appropriately developed to assess those content and skills,” said Andrew Bell, Manager of Social Studies Assessment with WestEd’s Assessment Design and Development team.

Bell continued, “State content standards in social studies are frequently broad statements about themes and time periods that states expect teachers to cover in a school year. For assessments to be valid, the test items must closely align to those standards and the grade-level expectations of the standards.”

WestEd worked closely with state education leaders and teacher committees to ensure that the test items met those requirements. Teachers, curriculum coordinators, and FJCC staff convened for the workshop.

“We provided item-writing practices and showed them how to choose and use social studies stimuli to support the items. We also focused on understanding how cultural biases and sensitive topics influence the development of items. Our facilitators then worked in small groups with the teachers to practice writing items. Afterward, they displayed the items to the whole group to discuss them,” described Bell.

Stephen Masyada, FJCC Director, appreciated WestEd’s partnership on this project. “WestEd was instrumental in supporting this collaboration with teachers, and their work with us remains impactful to this day.”

Expanding the State’s Existing Civics Item Bank

In addition to providing professional development to educators, the FJCC wanted to expand the civics item bank that it made available to Florida teachers through its Civics360 program for use in their classrooms. This expansion has been a game changer for educators, who now have access to an enriched repository of high-quality, vetted resources.

Stephen Masyada, FJCC Director, appreciated WestEd’s partnership on this project. “WestEd was instrumental in supporting this collaboration with teachers, and their work with us remains impactful to this day.”

The skills and knowledge that the educators acquired are instrumental in supporting their daily teaching activities and, more importantly, in facilitating meaningful student learning experiences. Even though the workshop lasted only 3 days, participants expressed how much they benefited from it and how they planned to incorporate the principles they learned into writing their assessment items.

“The instructors were helpful, friendly, and incredibly knowledgeable. I learned so much, not only about the correct way to write test questions but why it is important to structure items in a certain way,” said Elizabeth Gutschmidt, an 8th grade civics teacher.

Build Assessment Capacity Through an Item-Writing Workshop 

WestEd offers item-writing workshops tailored for local contexts and that cover any subject or content area. The workshop can be virtual, in person, or hybrid. Experts guide participants to remove construct-irrelevant variables and craft clear, unbiased, appropriately rigorous, and standards-aligned items.

Visit our Comprehensive Assessment Solutions page to learn more about our assessment services.