The thought had been nagging at me for the past few days.
You need to make a test for your 5th grade reading class.
When I had announced to my students that they would be taking a test later that week – the thought was there. It was a teenager with attitude rolling her eyes and saying, You mean the test you haven’t created yet?
When I went to write down “make test” in my planner, and then switched pens because I decided it would be a good idea to color-code my notes, and then began going through and making a list of color coded to-dos instead of actually doing anything – the thought was there. It was a mother scolding her child for not actually cleaning her room, but really just pushing everything into the closet.
After I put my son to bed the night before my students were scheduled to take this mystery test, I finally sat down to create it. I had taught 6th grade reading for years, after all, and had a test from a previous unit that I planned on just revamping a little bit. I figured in no time I would be sitting on my couch watching DVR-ed Scandal.
Hours later, my fingers were cold from having been poised over the keyboard too long, my eyes were watering from staring at the monitor, and that familiar feeling of anxiety was creeping up from my stomach.
I have a problem when it comes to creating tests. I always begin with a clear goal in mind, something like “20 questions that assess students in standards a, b and c.” However while I’m finding articles to base my questions on or re-reading the standards or reviewing questions from a previous test I’ve used, I lose focus.
I begin feeling a remarkable sense of inadequacy. Did I really teach my students how to analyze the author’s tone through word choice? Is this question a valid way to measure that standard? Is there really a purpose to asking this? Is this too hard? Is this not challenging enough?
Like students who get anxiety about taking tests, I get anxiety about making them.
I decided to look up test-taking strategies, and see how they translate to the other side of the testing world.
Strategy #1: Prepare
When I was in college earning my Master’s in Education, we learned about educational psychology and different ways to engage students in texts and how to create rubrics to objectively assess writing, but there were no courses on creating tests. After teaching A Christmas Carol for five years I felt prepared when I sat down to make my summative assessment. And yet I wasn’t more then three questions in before the doubts crept in. Common Core says students should analyze an author’s tone, not just identify it. Does this question really ask the students to analyze it? Will they be able to analyze it on the test they take this spring? And then there’s the doubt about my own answer choices. Am I positive that none of the other tone choices could be proven using textual evidence? I need the students to be able to choose the tone I feel is correct, because they don’t get the luxury of explaining their logic.
As confident as I can feel about the content I am teaching, I still feel unprepared when it comes to creating tests.
Strategy #2: Focus on the question at hand. Don’t let your mind wander
When our evaluation as an educator is so intertwined with not just how students perform on standardized tests, but also how we track each data increment in our own classroom, it is hard for me to make a test without losing my focus. After all, in the evaluation of my teaching it’s worth more to have numbers speak for my students’ performance than my daily observations of them. And if I don’t prepare them well for the question format of whichever standardized test they will be taking, then they have no hope of proving they have grown as learners.
And suddenly I’m no longer thinking about the standard I’m trying to assess them on right now, but the test that they will take which will be used to assess my teaching next spring.
Strategy #3: Maintain a Positive Attitude
It’s hard not to get frustrated when I sit down with a plan to create a test during my planning time and 50 minutes later only one question is sitting on my Google Doc.
It as equally frustrating when I finish a test after weeks of deliberation, only to have students perform poorly on it. My first thought goes back to my test-making skills: Did the test I created assess them poorly? Did I teach them poorly? Am I putting too much pressure on myself and not enough responsibility on my students? Maybe.
I’m not negating the importance of being able to answer multiple-choice tests. It’s a good skill to have, and I know that creating them is just something I am weak in. And maybe that’s why I put so much pressure on myself to make each one perfect. Because in the end, all I want is for my own students to go into their tests feeling prepared, feeling focused, and feeling positive.
I would LOVE to hear your comments on test-making. Do you have a strategy that helps you? Post on Twitter or leave a comment!