January 12, 2009

What You Need to Know When Evaluating Assessment Instruments

By: in Educational Assessment, Teaching and Learning

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MAPP, CAAP, C-BASE, CLA, NSSE, to name just a few. With so many published assessment instruments available, how do you know the best one for assessing student learning at your school?

“In order to choose the right assessment instrument, you have to ask the right questions,” says Linda Suskie, vice president of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

In the recent seminar, Choosing a Published Instrument to Assess Student Learning, Suskie discussed the benefits of published instruments and outlined the important questions to ask when evaluating assessment tools for your school. The important thing to remember, she says, is there is no one instrument that will match the goals of every higher education institution so you have to do your homework to find the best one for you.

Questions to Ask When Evaluating Published Assessment Instruments

Does it match our needs? Review the assessment instrument’s stated purpose and objectives and make sure they align with your philosophy and goals as well as what you teach. Also make sure that the results of the test include actionable information.

Is it practical to administer? Contact the publisher to find out how much the test costs and exactly how much time is required for planning and administering the assessment. Tests that must be taken in one two-hour sitting or require a computer lab can create logistical complications for campuses where most courses are 50-minutes long.

Is there any cultural or gender bias? Although any reputable publisher goes to great lengths to ensure a bias-free test, it’s always a good idea to examine sample questions and past editions through the lens of your students’ experiences for offensive material or words that might not have common meaning.

Does it truly measure what it purports to measure? This is where you dig into test validity. Do test scores have appropriate correlations with grades as well as other tests? Do subscores have appropriate intercorrelations?

Are scores consistent? Score consistency in test/re-test scenarios as well as between forms will tell you how reliable this particular assessment tool is.
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Are norms adequate and appropriate? Because the quality of your scores will depend on the quality of the norm groups, you need find out all you can about the norm groups. How were the colleges and students selected? How many colleges and students participated? Do the norms represent your institution and the group of students who will take the test?

What do the score reports look like? Test results, and what you do with them, are at the heart of any initiative to assess student learning. Find out what kind of reports you will receive from the publisher. How useful is the feedback? Is it easy to understand and share with faculty? Will they tell you what you are doing right as well as what you’re doing wrong?

A good source for identifying potential instruments to review is the Buros Institute of Mental Measurements Yearbooks and Tests in Print.

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