Item Development – Five Tips for Organizing Your Drafting Process

Austin FosseyPosted by Austin Fossey

Once you’ve trained your item writers, they are ready to begin drafting items. But how should you manage this step of the item development process?

There is an enormous amount of literature about item design and item writing techniques—which we will not cover in this series—but as Cynthia Shmeiser and Catherine Welch observe in their chapter in Educational Measurement (4th ed.), there is very little guidance about the item writing process. This is surprising, given that item writing is critical to effective test development.

It may be tempting to let your item writers loose in your authoring software with a copy of the test specifications and see what comes back, but if you invest time and effort in organizing your item drafting sessions, you are likely to retain more items and better support the validity of the results.

Here are five considerations for organizing item writing sessions:

  • Assignments – Shmeiser and Welch recommend giving each item writer a specific assignment to set expectations and to ensure that you build an item bank large enough to
    meet your test specifications. If possible, distribute assignments evenly so that no single author has undue influence over an entire area of your test specifications. Set realistic goals for your authors, keeping in mind that some of their items will likely be dropped later in item reviews.
  • Instructions – In the previous post, we mentioned the benefit of a style guide for keeping item formats consistent. You may also want to give item writers instructions or templates for specific item types, especially if you are working with complex item types. (You should already have defined the types of items that can be used to measure each area of your test specifications in advance.)
  • Monitoring – Monitor item writers’ progress and spot-check their work. This is not a time to engage in full-blown item reviews, but periodic checks can help you to provide feedback and correct misconceptions. You can also check in to make sure that the item writers are abiding by security policies and formatting guidelines. In some item writing workshops, I have also asked item writers to work in pairs to help check each other’s work.
  • Communication – With some item designs, several people may be involved in building the item. One team may be in charge of developing a scoring model, another team may draft content, and a third team may add resources or additional stimuli, like images or animations. These teams need to be organized so that materials are
    handed off on time, but they also need to be able to provide iterative feedback to each other. For example, if the content team finds a loophole in the scoring model, they need to be able to alert the other teams so that it can be resolved.
  • Be Prepared – Be sure to have a backup plan in case your item writing sessions hit a snag. Know what you are going to do if an item writer does not complete an assignment or if content is compromised.

Many of the details of the item drafting process will depend on your item types, resources, schedule, authoring software, and availability of item writers. Determine what you need to accomplish, and then organize your item writing sessions as much as possible so that you meet your goals.

In my next post, I will discuss the benefits of conducting an initial editorial review of the draft items before they are sent to review committees.

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