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4 Reasons to Use an Item Bank to Construct Formative Assessments

Posted by Adam Jones on June 18, 2019

Have teachers ever been asked to do more? They're simultaneously responsible for providing engaging instruction on academic standards, helping students navigate complex social-emotional challenges, and serving as community leaders inside and outside of school. In this demanding environment, any solution that saves teachers time is worthwhile, even more so if it also improves learning outcomes.

In this post, I make the case that selecting and implementing a high-quality item bank developed by professional assessment writers is a surefire way to give teachers some of their time back while providing them and their students clear, actionable data.

Reason 1: Teachers are not psychometricians.

While pre-service teachers may write a few quizzes or end-of-unit tests during their undergraduate careers, they are not required to become psychometricians. Nor should they be. Consider the definition of psychometrics provided by Denny Borsboom, from the University of Amsterdam.

"Psychometrics is a scientific discipline concerned with the construction of assessment tools, measurement instruments, and formalized models that may serve to connect observable phenomena (e.g., responses to items in an IQ-test) to theoretical attributes (e.g., intelligence)."

A trained psychometrician must have a thorough understanding of item construction, how bias and cultural understandings influence performance, and statistical models that inform the interpretation of results. In addition to aligning a test item to an academic standard, a professional item writer also attends to a question's rigor (e.g., depth of knowledge). For the majority of teachers, focusing extensively on these topics would be a distraction from more pressing concerns, such as creating engaging instructional activities aligned to academic standards, drawing meaningful connections between classroom learning and practical applications, and connecting with families and community members to build a safe, productive environment.

Simply put, teachers do not need to become psychometricians. But they should embrace the use of tools developed by these specialized scientists. By doing so, assessment experiences and results will be more valid and reliable.

Reason 2: Instructional time is precious.

During some parts of the school year, days become a parade of distractions. Whether it's a whole-school convocation focused on the upcoming football game or a state-mandated tornado drill, precious instructional time is eroded bit by bit. Plus, testing fatigue (for both teachers and students) is a legitimate worry.

For these reasons and more, time devoted to assessment preparation, administration, and interpretation (after results are available) should be carefully-considered. With so many students performing below grade-level expectations, it's not hyperbole to say that there isn't a moment to waste.

A professionally-developed item bank allows teachers to quickly curate questions and prompts aligned to their curricular goals without spending hours and hours writing and revising them. Even better, if the items can be administered online, there's little to no need to create paper copies. With the time saved, teachers can focus on tasks they're uniquely-positioned to perform: providing direct instruction, remediating individuals and small groups, and offering enrichment activities.

Reason 3: Detailed feedback should be provided as soon as possible.

Years of research have proven that swift, high-quality feedback has a positive impact on student achievement. According to Dill-Varga and Roubitchek, "When information on progress is timely, specific, accurate, and focused on improvement, it has the greatest chance to positively affect the learner's end performance" (emphasis added).

By using an online item bank, teachers and students receive instant feedback because the vast majority of items are graded automatically. Written responses still typically require a teacher's input. However, the day is likely coming when even a student's essay response will receive an accurate score based on machine learning algorithms.

High-quality item banks, such as Navigate and Inspect, even provide distractor rationales. This means that teachers can develop an understanding of why students likely selected incorrect answers, powerful information that can inform reteaching efforts. Similarly, students can see this information, providing just-in-time support to correct misconceptions and avoid similar errors in the future.

Reason 4: School leaders need insight regarding student performance.

As instructional leaders, principals and central office staff need real-time academic information. By using an online item bank with autogenerated reports, school leaders can keep a pulse on the achievement and growth in their buildings. Rather than asking teachers to update a spreadsheet or to update a data wall in a room next to the lounge, administrators can view student performance on any device at any time. Think of how much time this approach saves, how many emails and staff meetings it eliminates, and how much freedom it provides.

Two Excellent Options

At Five-Star Technology Solutions, we've partnered with two outstanding item bank providers, Navigate and Inspect. Both banks feature tens of thousands of standards-aligned questions and tasks in English language arts, mathematics, social studies/history, and science (including tools aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards).

If you're interested in learning how our Pivot platform can empower your team to leverage the power of a professionally-developed item bank, please let us know.

Topics: data analysis, formative assessment

Written by Adam Jones

Director of Product Strategy
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