Get trustable results : Require a topic score as a prerequisite to pass a test

John Kleeman HeadshotPosted by John Kleeman

If you are taking an assessment to prove your competence as a machine operator, and you get all the questions right except the health and safety ones, should you pass the assessment? Probably not. Some topics can be more important than others, and assessment results should reflect that fact.

In most assessments, it’s acceptable to define a pass or cut score, and all that is required to pass the assessment is for the participant to achieve the passing score or higher. The logic for this is that success on one item can make up for failure on another item,  so skills in one area are substitutable for skills in another. However, there are other assessments where some skills or knowledge are critical, and here you might want to require a passing score or even a 100% score in the key or “golden” topics as well as a pass score for the test as a whole.

This is easy to set up in Questionmark when you author your assessments. When you create the assessment outcome that defines passing the test, you define some topic prerequisites.

Here is an illustrative example, showing 4 topics. As well as achieving the pass score on the test, the participant must achieve 60% in three topics: “Closing at end of day”, “Operations” and “Starting up”, and 100% in one topic: “Safety”.

Prerequisites

If you need to ensure that participants don’t pass a test unless they have achieved scores in certain topics, topic prerequisites are the way to achieve this.

Case Study: Live monitoring offers security for online tests

Headshot JuliePosted by Julie Delazyn

Thomas Edison State College (TESC) is one of the oldest schools in the country designed specifically for adults. The college’s 20,000+ students, many of them involved with careers and families, live all over the world and favor courses that enable online study.

In setting up online midterm and final exams, the college wanted to give distance leaners the same kind of security as on-campus students experience at more traditional institutions. At the same time, it was essential to give students some control over where and when they take tests.

Online proctoring offered a way to achieve both of these goals.

Working with Questionmark and ProctorU has enabled TESC to administer proctored exams to students at their home or work computers.

Proctors connect with test takers via webcam and audio hook-ups, verify the each test-taker’s identity, initiate the authentication process, ensure the students are not using any unauthorized materials or aids and troubleshoot technical problems. The college can now run secure tests while meeting the needs of busy students for flexible access to exams.

You can read the full case study here.

Item Development – Managing the Process for Large-Scale Assessments

Austin FosseyPosted by Austin Fossey

Whether you work with low-stakes assessments, small-scale classroom assessments or large-scale, high-stakes assessment, understanding and applying some basic principles of item development will greatly enhance the quality of your results.

This is the first in a series of posts setting out item development steps that will help you create defensible assessments. Although I’ll be addressing the requirements of large-scale, high-stakes testing, the fundamental considerations apply to any assessment.

You can find previous posts here about item development including how to write items, review items, increase complexity, and avoid bias. This series will review some of what’s come before, but it will also explore new territory. For instance, I’ll discuss how to organize and execute different steps in item development with subject matter experts. I’ll also explain how to collect information that will support the validity of the results and the legal defensibility of the assessment.

In this series, I’ll take a look at:

Item Dev.

These are common steps (adapted from Crocker and Algina’s Introduction to Classical and Modern Test Theory) taken to create the content for an assessment. Each step requires careful planning, implementation, and documentation, especially for high-stakes assessments.

This looks like a lot of steps, but item development is just one slice of assessment development. Before item development can even begin, there’s plenty of work to do!

In their article, Design and Discovery in Educational Assessment: Evidence-Centered Design, Psychometrics, and Educational Data Mining, Mislevy, Behrens, Dicerbo, and Levy provide an overview of Evidence-Centered Design (ECD). In ECD, test developers must define the purpose of the assessment, conduct a domain analysis, model the domain, and define the conceptual assessment framework before beginning assessment assembly, which includes item development.

Once we’ve completed these preparations, we are ready to begin item development. In the next post, I will discuss considerations for training our item writers and item reviewers.

How many test or exam retakes should you allow? Part 2

John Kleeman HeadshotPosted by John Kleeman

In my last post, I offered some ideas about what to consider when determining your retake policy regarding a certification assessment measuring competence and mastery. Some of the issues to balance are test security, fairness, a delay between retakes and the impact of retakes on test preparation. In this conclusion to the post, I’ll share what a few other organizations do and how you might approach deciding the number of retakes to allow.

Here is how a few respected certification programmes manage retakes

SAP have the following rules in their certification programme:

No candidate may participate in the same examination for the same release more than three times. A candidate who has failed at an examination three times for a release may not attempt that examination again until the next release. 

Microsoft allow up to 5 attempts in a 12-month period and then impose a 12-month waiting period. They also have gaps of several days between retakes, with the number of days increasing for subsequent retakes.

The US financial regulator FINRA requires a waiting time of 30 days between exams, but if you fail an exam three or more times in succession, you must wait 6 months before taking it again.

What’s the right answer for you?

The right answer depends on your circumstances. Many programmes allow retakes but have rules in place to limit the delivery rate of the assessment in order to limit content exposure.

1. You should communicate your retake policy to participants and to stakeholders who see the results of the assessments.

2. If you release scores, you also need to decide whether you will have a policy  as to whether scores for all attempts are released, or (as many organizations do) only for the successful attempt. Section 11.2 of the the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing states

“Test users or the sponsoring agency should explain to test takers their opportunities, if any, to retake an examination; users should also indicate whether the earlier as well as later scores will be reported to those entitled to receive score reports.”

3. You should not allow people to retake a test they have passed.

4. You should consider requiring a period of time to elapse before someone retakes an exam if they fail. This allows time for them to update their learning. You can easily set this up when scheduling within Questionmark software, for example the dialog below gives a 7-day gap.

Limit days between retakes

5. Unless special circumstances apply, you will usually want to allow at least one retake and probably at least two retakes.

6. You may want to consider some intervention or stop procedure after a certain number of failed attempts. A common number I’ve heard anecdotally is three attempts, but it will depend on each assessment program’s own individual factors and use cases.  If this is an internal compliance exam, you might want to organize some remedial training or job review. If this is a public exam, you might want to ensure a longer time period to allow reflection and re-learning.

Please feel free to comment below if you have alternative thoughts on the number of retakes to allow.

Coming soon to South Africa: A full conference programme by and for Questionmark users!

Chloe MendoncaPosted by Chloe Mendonca

Questionmark users gathering in Midrand, South Africa 21-22 August have a variety of sessions to look forward to. The programme for the South African Questionmark Users Conference is almost finalised and now includes a range of customer case studies as well as sessions about Questionmark features and functions.

We’re especially pleased to have Jim Farrell, who leads Questionmark’s product management
team, on board as a presenter. Jim has more than 20 years’ experience in the world of education and assessments and will share some of the latest
developments in Questionmark’s browser-based authoring tool and cover the newest Reporting and Analytics features.

This event is for Questionmark customers as well as individuals interested in learning more about Questionmark’s technologies.

Why attend? Here are some excellent reasons:

  • Write better assessments: Questionmark experts will share advice about effective assessment authoring
  • Learn from your peers through case studies: discover strategies that have helped other users to save time and money and compare your organisation’s practices to theirs
  • Influence the product roadmap: explain to Questionmark’s product managers what you need from your assessment software
  • Get face time: there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings with people who understand the opportunities and challenges in your work
  • Professional development opportunity: take advantage of this opportunity close to home

If you’ve already made plans to be there, we’re looking forward to seeing you! For those who haven’t signed up, we hope you will register and join us!

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Trustworthy Assessment Results – A Question of Transparency

Austin FosseyPosted by Austin Fossey

Do you trust the results of your test? Like many questions in psychometrics, the answer is that it depends. Like the trust between two people, trustworthy assessment results have to be earned by the testing body.

trustMany of us want to implicitly trust the testing body, be it a certification organization, a department of education, or our HR department. When I fill a car with gas, I don’t want to have to siphon the gas out to make sure the amount of gas matches the volume on the pump—I just assume it’s accurate. We put the same faith in our testing bodies.

Just as gas pumps are certified and periodically calibrated, many high-stakes assessment programs are also reviewed. In the U.S., state testing programs are reviewed by the U.S. Department of Education, peer review groups, and technical advisory boards. Certification and licensure programs are sometimes reviewed by third-party accreditation programs, though these accreditations usually only look to see that certain requirements are met without evaluating how well they were executed.

In her op-ed, Can We Trust Assessment Results?, Eva Baker argues that the trustworthiness of assessment results is dependent on the transparency of the testing program. I agree with her. Participants should be able to easily get information on the purpose of the assessment, the content that is covered, and how the assessment was developed. Baker also adds that appropriate validity studies should be conducted and shared. I was especially pleased to see Baker propose that “good transparency occurs when test content can be clearly summarized without giving away the specific questions.”

For test results to be trustworthy, transparency also needs to extend beyond the development of the assessment to include its maintenance. Participants and other stakeholders should have confidence that the testing body is monitoring its assessments, and that a plan is in place should their results become compromised.

In their article, Cheating: Its Implications for ABFM Examinees, Kenneth Royal and James Puffer discuss cases where widespread cheating affects the statistics of the assessment, which in turn mislead test developers by making items appear easier. The effect can be an assessment that yields invalid results. Though specific security measures should be kept confidential, testing bodies should have a public-facing security plan that explains their policies for addressing improprieties. This plan should address policies for the participants as
well as for how the testing body will handle test design decisions that have been impacted by compromised results.

Even under ideal circumstances, mistakes can happen. Readers may recall that, in 2006, thousands of students received incorrect scores on the SAT, arguably one of the best-developed and carefully scrutinized assessments in U.S. education. The College Board (the testing body that runs the SAT) handled the situation as well as they could, publicly sharing the impact of the issue, the reasons it happened, and their policies for how they would handle the incorrect results. Others will feel differently, but I trust SAT scores more now that I have observed how the College Board communicated and rectified the mistake.

Most testing programs are well-run, professional operations backed by qualified teams of test developers, but there are the occasional junk testing programs such as predatory certificate programs, that yield useless, untrustworthy results. It can be difficult to tell the difference, but like Eva Baker, I believe that organizational transparency is the right way for a testing body to earn the trust of its stakeholders.

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