Once we have defined the purpose of the assessment, completed our domain analysis, and finalized a test blueprint, we might be eager to jump right in to item writing, but there is one important step to take before we begin: training!
Unless you are writing the entire assessment yourself, you will need a group of item writers to develop the content. These item writers are likely experts in their fields, but they may have very little understanding of how to create assessment content. Even if these experts have experience writing items, it may be beneficial to provide refresher trainings, especially if anything has changed in your assessment design.
In their chapter in Educational Measurement (4 th ed.), Cynthia Shmeiser and Catherine Welch note that it is important to consider the qualifications and representativeness of your item writers. It is common to ask item writers to fill out a brief survey to collect demographic information. You should keep these responses on file and possibly add a brief document explaining why you consider these item writers to be a qualified and representative sample.
Shmeiser and Welch also underscore the need for security. Item writers should be trained on your content security guidelines, and your organization may even ask them to sign an agreement stating that they will abide by those guidelines. Make sure everyone understands the security guidelines, and have a plan in place in case there are any violations.
Next, begin training your item writers on how to author items, which should include basic concepts about cognitive levels, drafting stems, picking distractors, and using specific item types appropriately. Shmeiser and Welch suggest that the test blueprint be used as the foundation of the training. Item writers should understand the content included in the specifications and the types of items they are expected to create for that content. Be sure to share examples of good and bad items.
If possible, ask your writers to create some practice items, then review their work and provide feedback. If they are using the item authoring software for the first time, be sure to acquaint them with the tools before they are given their item writing assignments.
Your item writers may also need training on your item data, delivery method, or scoring rules. For example, you may ask item writers to cite a reference for each item, or you might ask them to weight certain items differently. Your instructions need to be clear and precise, and you should spot check your item writers’ work. If possible, write a style guide that includes clear guidelines about item construction, such as fonts to use, acceptable abbreviations, scoring rules, acceptable item types, et cetera.
I know from my own experience (and Shmeiser and Welch agree) that investing more time in training will have a big payoff down the line. Better training leads to substantially better item retention rates when items are reviewed. If your item writers are not trained well, you may end up throwing out many of their items, which may not leave you enough for your assessment design. Considering the cost of item development and the time spent writing and reviewing items, putting in a few more hours of training can equal big savings for your program in the long run.
In my next post, I will discuss how to manage your item writers as they begin the important work of drafting the items.