Item Analysis for Beginners – Getting Started

Do you use assessments to make decisions about people? If so, then you should regularly run Item Analysis on your results.  Item Analysis can help find questions which are ambiguous, mis-keyed or which have choices that are rarely chosen. Improving or removing such questions will improve the validity and reliability of your assessment, and so help you use assessment results to make better decisions. If you don’t use Item Analysis, you risk using poor questions that make your assessments less accurate.

Sometimes people can be fearful of Item Analysis because they are worried it involves too much statistics. This blog post introduces Item Analysis for people who are unfamiliar with it, and I promise no maths or stats! I’m also giving a free webinar on Item Analysis with the same promise.

An assessment contains many items (another name for questions) as figuratively shown below. You can use Item Analysis to look at how each item performs within the assessment and flag potentially weak items for review. By keeping only stronger questions in the assessment, the assessment will be more effective.

Picture of a series of items with one marked as being weak

Item Analysis looks at the performance of all your participants on the items, and calculates how easy or hard people find the items (“item difficulty” or “p-value”) and how well the scores on items correlate with or show a relationship with the scores on the assessment as a whole (“item discrimination” or correlation). Some of problematic questions that Item Analysis can identify are:

  • Questions almost all participants get right, and so which are very easy. You might want to review to these to see if they are appropriate for the assessment. See my earlier post Item Analysis for Beginners – When are very Easy or very Difficult Questions Useful? for more information.
  • Questions which are difficult, where a lot of participants get the questionwrong. You should check such questions in case they are mis-keyed or ambiguous.
  • Multiple choice questions where some choices are rarely picked. You might want to improve such questions to make the wrong choices more plausible.
  • Questions where there is a poor correlation between participants who get the question right and who do well on the assessment. For example it will flag questions that high performing participants perform poorly on. You should look at such questions in case they are ambiguous, mis-keyed or off-topic.

There is a huge wealth of information available in an Item Analysis report, and assessment experts will delve into the report in detail. But much of the key information in an Item Analysis report is useful to anyone creating and delivering quizzes, tests and exams.

The Questionmark Item Analysis report includes a graph which shows the difficulty of items compared against their discrimination, like in the example below. It flags questions by marking them amber or red if they fall into categories which may need review. For example, in the illustration below, four questions are marked in amber as having low discrimination and so potentially be worth looking at.

Illustration of Questionmark item analysis report showing some questions green and some amber

If you are running an assessment program, and not using Item Analysis regularly, then this throws doubt on the trustworthiness of your results. By using it to identify and improve weak questions you should be able to improve your validity and reliability.

Item Analysis is surprisingly effective in practice. I’m one of the team responsible at Questionmark for managing our data security test which all employees have to take annually to check their understanding of information security and data protection. We recently reviewed the test and ran Item Analysis and very quickly found a question with poor stats where the technology had changed but we’d not updated the wording, and another question where two of the choices could be considered right, which made it hard to answer. It made our review faster and more effective and helped us improve the quality of the test.

If you want to learn a little more about Item Analysis, I’m running a free webinar on the subject “Item Analysis for Beginners” on May 2nd. You can see details and register for the webinar at https://www.questionmark.com/questionmark_webinars. I look forward to seeing some of you there!

 

Seven Ways Assessments Fortify Compliance

Posted by John Kleeman
Picture of a tablet being used to take an assessment with currency symbols adjacentWhy do most of the world’s banks, pharmaceutical companies, utilities and other large companies use online assessments to test the competence of their employees?

It’s primarily because compliance fines round the world are high and assessments reduce the risk of regulatory compliance failures. Assessments also give protection to the organization in the event of an individual mis-step by proving that the organization had checked the individual’s knowledge of the rules prior to the mistake.

Here are seven reasons companies use assessments from my experience:

1. Regulators encourage assessments 

Some regulators require companies to test their workforce regularly. For example the US FDIC says in its compliance manual:

“Once personnel have been trained on a particular subject, a compliance officer should periodically assess employees on their knowledge and comprehension of the subject matter”

And the European Securities and Market Authority says in its guidelines for assessment of knowledge and competence:

“ongoing assessment will contain updated material and will test staff on their knowledge of, for example, regulatory changes, new products and services available on the market”

Other regulators focus more on companies ensuring that their workforce is competent, rather than specifying how companies ensure it, but most welcome clear evidence that personnel have been trained and have shown understanding of the training.

People sitting at desks with computers taking tests2. Assessments demonstrate commitment to your workforce and to regulators

Many compliance errors happen because managers pay lip service to following the rules but indicate in their behavior they don’t mean it. If you assess all employees and managers regularly, and require additional training or sanctions for failing tests, it sends a clear message to your workforce that knowledge and observance of the rules is genuinely required.

Some regulators also take commitment to compliance by the organization into account when setting the level of fines, and may reduce fines if there is serious evidence of compliance activities, which assessments can be a useful part of. For example the German Federal Court recently ruled that fines should be less if there is evidence of effective compliance management.

3. Assessments find problems early

Online assessments are one of the few ways in which a compliance team can touch all employees in an organization. You can see results by team, department, location or individual and identify who understands what and focus in on weak areas to look at improving. There is no better way to reach all employees.

4. Assessments document understanding after training

Many regulators require training to be documented. Giving someone an assessment after training doesn’t just confirm he or she attended the course but confirms they understood the training.

5. Assessments increase retention of knowledge and reduce forgetting

Can you remember everything you learned? Of course, none of us can!

There is good evidence that quizzes and tests increase retention and reduce forgetting. This is partly because people study for tests and so remind themselves of the knowledge they learned, which helps retain it. And it is partly because retrieving information in a quiz or test makes it easier to retrieve the same information in future, and so more likely to be able to apply in practice when needed.

6. By allowing testing out, assessments reduce the time and cost of compliance trainingTake test. If pass, skip training. Otherwise do training.

Many organizations permit employees to “test out” of compliance training. People can take a test and if they demonstrate good enough knowledge, they don’t need to attend the training. This concentrates training resources and employee time on areas that are needed, and avoids demoralizing employees with boring compliance training repeating what they already know.

7. Assessments reduce human error which reduces the likelihood of a compliance mis-step

Many compliance failures arise from human error. Root cause analysis of human error suggests that a good proportion of errors are caused by people not understanding training, training being missing or people not following procedures. Assessments can pick up and prevent mistakes caused by people not understanding what they should do or how to follow procedures, and so reduce the risk of error.

 

If you are interested in learning more about the reasons online assessments mitigate compliance risk, Questionmark are giving a webinar “Seven Ways Assessments Fortify Compliance” on April 11th. To register for this or our other free webinars, go to www.questionmark.com/questionmark_webinars.

Item Analysis for Beginners – When are very Easy or very Difficult Questions Useful?

Posted by John Kleeman

I’m running a session at the Questionmark user conference next month on Item Analysis for Beginners and thought I’d share the answer to an interesting question in this blog.

Item analysis fragment showing a question with difficulty of 0.998 and discrimination of 0.034When you run an Item Analysis report, one of the useful statistics you get on a question is its “p-value” or “item difficulty”. This is a number from 0 to 1, with the higher the value the easier the question. An easy question might have a p-value of 0.9 to 1.0, meaning 90% to 100% of participants answer the question correctly. A difficult question might have a p-value of 0.0 to 0.25 meaning less than 25% of participants answer the question correctly. For example, the report fragment to the right shows a question with p-value 0.998 which means it is very easy and almost everyone gets it right.

Whether such questions are appropriate depends on the purpose of the assessment. Most participants will get difficult questions wrong and easy questions right. In general, very easy and very difficult questions will not be as helpful as other questions in helping you discriminate between participants and so use the assessment for measurement purposes.

Here are three reasons why you might decide to include very difficult questions in an assessment:

  1. Sometimes your test blueprint requires questions on a topic and the only ones you have available are difficult ones – if so, you need to use them until you can write more.
  2. If a job has high performance needs and you need to filter out a few participants from many, then very difficult questions can be useful. This might apply for example if you are selecting potential astronauts or special forces team members.
  3. If you need to assess a wide range of ability within a single assessment, then you may need some very difficult questions to be able to assess abilities within the top performing participants.

And here are five reasons why you might decide to include very easy questions in an assessment:

  1. Answering questions gives retrieval practice and helps participants remember things in future – so including easy questions still helps reduce people’s forgetting.
  2. In compliance or health and safety, you may choose to include basic questions that almost everyone gets right. This is because if someone gets it wrong, you want to know and be able to intervene.
  3. More broadly, sometimes a test blueprint requires you to cover some topics that almost everyone knows, and it’s not practical to write difficult questions about.
  4. Easy questions at the start of an assessment can build confidence and reduce test anxiety. See my blog post Ten tips on reducing test anxiety for online test-takers for other ways to deal with test anxiety.
  5. If the purpose of your assessment is to measure someone’s ability to process information quickly and accurately at speed, then including many low difficulty questions that need to be answered in a short time might be appropriate.

If you want to learn more about Item Analysis, search this blog for other articles. You might also find the Questionmark user conference useful, since as well as my session on Item Analysis, there are also many other useful sessions including setting the cut-score in a fair, defensible way and identifying knowledge gaps. The conference also gives opportunity to learn and network with other assessment practitioners – I look forward to seeing some of you there.

New White Paper Examines how to Assess for Situational Judgment

Posted by John Kleeman

Is exercising judgment a critical factor in the competence of the employees and contractors who service your organization? If the answer to this is yes, as it most likely is, you may be interested in Questionmark’s white paper, just published this week on “Assessing for Situational Judgment”.

It’s not just CEOs who need to exercise judgment and make decisions, almost every job requires an element of judgment. Situational Judgment Assessments (SJAs) present a dilemma to the participant and ask them to choose options in response.


Context is defined -> There is a dilemma that needs judgment -> The participant chooses from options -> A score or evaluation is made

Here is an example: 

You work as part of a technical support team that produces work internally for an organization. You have noticed that often work is not performed correctly or a step has been omitted from a procedure. You are aware that some individuals are more at fault than others as they do not make the effort to produce high quality results and they work in a disorganized way. What do you see as the most effective and the least effective responses to this situation?
A.  Explain to your team why these procedures are important and what the consequences are of not performing these correctly.
B.  Try to arrange for your team to observe another team in the organisation who produce high quality work.
C.  Check your own work and that of everyone else in the team to make sure any errors are found.
D.  Suggest that the team tries many different ways to approach their work to see if they can find a method where fewer mistakes are made.

In this example, option C deals with errors but is time consuming and doesn’t address the behavior of team members. Option B is also reasonable but doesn’t deal with the issue immediately and may not address the team’s disorganized approach. Option D is asking a disorganized team to engage in a set of experiments that could increase rather than reduce errors in the work produced. This is likely to be the least effective of the options presented. Option A does require some confidence in dealing with potential pushback from the other team members, but is most likely to have a positive effect.

You can see some more SJA examples at http://www.questionmark.com/go/example-sja.

SJA items assess judgment and variations can be used in pre-hire, post-hire training, for compliance and for certification. SJAs offer assessment programs the opportunity to move beyond assessments of what people know (knowledge of what) to assessments of how that knowledge will be applied in the workplace (knowledge of how).

Questionmark’s white paper is written as a collaboration by Eugene Burke, well known advisor on talent, assessment and analytics and myself. The white paper is aimed at:

  • Psychometricians, testing professionals, work psychologists and consultants who currently create SJAs for workplace use (pre-hire or post-hire) and want to consider using Questionmark technology for such use
  • Trainers, recruiters and compliance managers in corporations and government looking to use SJAs to evaluate personnel
  • High-tech or similar certification organizations looking to add SJAs to increase the performance realism and validity of their exam

The 40 page white paper includes sections on:

  • Why consider assessing for situational judgment
  • What is an SJA?
  • Pre-hire and helping employers and job applicants make better decisions
  • Post-hire and using SJAs in workforce training and development
  • SJAs in certification programs
  • SJAs in support of compliance programs
  • Constructing SJAs
  • Pitfalls to avoid
  • Leveraging technology to maximize the value of SJAs

Situational Judgment Assessments are an effective means of measuring judgment and the white paper provides a rationale and blueprint to make it happen. The white paper is available free (with registration) from https://www.questionmark.com/sja-whitepaper.

I will also be presenting a session about SJAs in March at the Questionmark Conference 2018 in Savannah, Georgia – visit the conference website for more details.

Why Digital Badges are Win-Win-Win

Posted by John Kleeman

Digital badges are a validated, electronic measure of achievement that are starting to be very widely used in the workplace, in education and in certification. This article explains some of the reasons why they are genuinely a win for all involved.

Picture of a badge with the Questionmark logo on it saying "Data Security Proficient"

A little while ago, achievements were recognized with a paper certificate, which you could frame and put on your office wall. But with digital printing, paper certificates have become easy to forge, and with the Internet, a lot of offices are virtual. So nowadays recognition of achievement is often with a digital certificate or badge. Digital badges use a picture (like the one on the right) to summarize what the badge is and are backed up with detailed information that can be verified online. Many people put badges on their LinkedIn or other social media accounts.

Digital badges can be used for many purposes including:

  • Giving a certificate on passing a test or exam
  • Showing completion of a course
  • Recognize other accomplishments, major and minor
  • Help signpost pathways to learning with each step a badge

With Questionmark Badging, you can award digital badges when someone passes an assessment.

A key human need is to achieve goals and for others to value our achievements, and digital badges provide a mechanism to help satisfy these needs.

Three circles showing Society, Organizations and IndividualsDigital badges can be win-win-win for society, organizations and individuals.

Society

As technology changes and the world becomes more global, skill shortages are a significant issue to the global economy. According to the OECD, “in most countries, large shares of employers complain that they cannot find workers with the skills that their businesses require”.

Digital badges help reduce skill shortages by encouraging and documenting the acquisition of important skills and by recognizing competencies at a distance. They allow a society to increase citizen contributions and help mobility of skills which drives economic value.

Organizations

The most tangible benefit for digital badges is to the organizations who issue them. Digital badges provide a great opportunity for companies, universities and colleges and certification providers.

  • In the workplace, employers can issue badges to provide recognition of e-learning or instructor led training and to show achievement of important competencies. Badges motivate employees to develop current skills which make a business difference to the employer, and they recognize employees for achievement. For many employees, being recognized for an achievement is as important as a pay rise or other more tangible benefit.
  • Universities and colleges can issue badges to students to show the module make-up in their courses, to encourage or showcase extra achievement or for short courses outside the usual curriculum.
  • Certification providers can give candidates a shareable badge, which encourages them to engage with the provider and promotes the certification brand. Digital badges also allow micro-credentials and delta credentials to deal with fast moving technology.

Individuals

Lastly, for individuals, digital badges help develop skills and careers. Digital badges let individuals showcase their achievements, grow self-esteem with a sense of accomplishment and obtain recognition for what they do as employee and/or as citizen.

 

Digital badges make sense for society, for organizations and for individuals. The improved competence and communication about competence they encourage improves society. Organizations gain skills and a new currency to reward their workforce. And badge earners gain recognition and a sense of achievement. It is important that badge issuers set up a good process to ensure their badges are credible and sustainable measures of achievement, but if this is done, badges are truly win-win-win.

If you are interested in learning more about digital badges, you can see information on Questionmark’s solution here.

GDPR: 6 months to go

Posted by Jamie Armstrong

Anyone working with personal data, particularly in the European Union, will know that we are now just six months from “GDPR day” (as I have taken to calling it). On 25-May-2018, the EU General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) will become applicable, ushering in a new privacy/data protection era with greater emphasis than ever on the rights of individuals when their personal data is used or stored by businesses and other organizations. In this blog post, I provide some general reminders about what the GDPR is and give some insight into Questionmark’s compliance preparations.

The GDPR replaces the current EU Data Protection Directive, which has been around for more than 20 years. To keep pace with technology advances and achieve greater uniformity on data protection, the EU began work on the GDPR over 5 years ago and finalized the text in April 2016. There then followed a period for regulators and other industry bodies to provide guidance on what the GDPR actually requires, to help organizations in their compliance efforts. Like all businesses that process EU personal data, whether based within the U.S., the EU or elsewhere, Questionmark has been busy in the months since the GDPR was finalized to ensure that our practices and policies align with GDPR expectations.

For example, we have recently made available revised versions of our EU OnDemand service and US OnDemand service terms and conditions with new GDPR clauses, so that our customers can be assured that their agreements with us meet data controller-data processor contract requirements. We have updated our privacy policy to make clearer what personal data we gather and how this is used when people visit and interact with our website. There is also a helpful Knowledge Base article on our website that describes the personal data Questionmark stores.

GDPR

One of the most talked-about provisions of the GDPR is Article 35, which deals with data protection impact assessments, or “DPIAs.” Basically, there is a requirement that organizations acting as data controllers of personal data (meaning that they determine the purpose and means of the processing of that data) complete a prior assessment of the impacts of processing that data if the processing is likely to result in a high risk to the rights and freedoms of data subjects. Organizations will need to make a judgment call regarding whether a high risk exists to require that a DPIA be completed. There are scenarios in which a DPIA will definitely be required, such as when data controllers process special categories of personal data like racial origin and health information, and in other cases some organizations may decide it’s safer to complete a DPIA even if not absolutely necessary to comply with the GDPR.

The GDPR expects that data processors will help data controllers with DPIAs. Questionmark has therefore prepared an example draft DPIA template that may be used for completing an assessment of data processing within Questionmark OnDemand. The draft DPIA template is available for download now.

In the months before GDPR day we will see more guidance from the Article 29 Working Party and national data protection authorities to assist organizations with compliance. Questionmark is committed to helping our customers being compliant with the GDPR and we’ll post more next year on this subject. We hope this update is useful in the meantime

Important disclaimer: This blog is provided for general information and interest purposes only, is non-exhaustive and does not constitute legal advice. As such, the contents of this blog should not be relied on for any particular purpose and you should seek the advice of their own legal counsel in considering GDPR requirements.