Building Differentiated Tests

When they create written tests to use in a differentiated classroom, teachers should keep a number of factors in mind:

  • Using a variety of question types. In addition to using traditional question types (see table below), teachers should include nontraditional question types such as analogies, demonstrations, drawings, and real-world applications. This allows teachers to determine which students have mastered the content or skill. Different students perform better on certain types of question types than on others, so having a variety of question types maximizes the probability that each student will have the opportunity to demonstrate his or her knowledge. Teachers should also use a combination of forced-choice items (e.g., matching, multiple choice) and constructed response items (e.g., create a timeline, write a short essay).
    Traditional Question Types Considerations and Suggestions
    Multiple choice
    • Write in simple language and use as few words as possible.
    • Avoid negatives (e.g., Which of these is not an example of an insect?).
    • Make sure the construction of the stem or answers does not give the answer away (e.g., The stem ends with “an” and only one answer begins with a vowel).
    Matching
    • Write the definitions on the left and list the words on the right so that students read a definition and then scan the list of words instead of vice versa.
    • Keep all matching items on the same page.
    • Include no more than eight items.
    • Note: This type of question is good for struggling readers because it requires minimal reading.
    Sentence completions and fill-in-the-blanks
    • Provide answer blanks and adequate space for written responses.
    • Understand that students’ handwriting is often difficult to decipher.
    • Write sentences so that the blanks are near the end to minimize issues with reading comprehension.
    Labeling diagrams, charts, and maps
    • Provide adequate space for the students to label.
    • Understand that students’ handwriting is often difficult to decipher.
    Ordering items or events
    • Note: This type of question works well for literature, history, science, and math.
    Short answers or essays
    • Grade only the content being tested and not the students’ writing skills (e.g., grammar, punctuation); an exception is the spelling of content area vocabulary.
    • Allow students to convey their knowledge in the most efficient manner (e.g., bulleted items, diagrams). Requiring them to write complete sentences may impede their ability to fully demonstrate their knowledge.
    True/ False
    • Teachers may want to avoid true/ false questions because they often involve the use of negatives, which are difficult for many students (e.g., Plants do not need sunlight to produce chlorophyll). Additionally, this test format is typically a difficult one for struggling readers and for students who experience test anxiety.
    • Provide a “T” and “F” for true/ false questions for the student to circle. This avoids the misinterpretation of a student’s illegible written T’s and F’s. It also prevents students with handwriting challenges from tiring during the tests when they are required to write out “true” and “false.”
  • Preteaching test-related vocabulary. Teachers should preteach unfamiliar words or phrases included in test items such as “compare” or “contrast.”
  • Making the format efficient for students. This allows students to demonstrate their knowledge without having to spend time and energy navigating the layout of the test.
  • Highlighting key words. When words such as fourmostleast, and excluding are highlighted, students are less likely to forget the criteria while formulating their answers.
  • Making test items straightforward. The test items should assess the students’ knowledge of the content or skill. Items that include negatives or require overly complicated logic interfere with students’ ability to accurately demonstrate their knowledge.
  • Specifying the criteria for constructed response items. Items that require the students to formulate responses (e.g., essays, short answers) should specify the criteria (e.g., length of essay, number of examples).
  • Using authentic assessment. Test students in the same way they were taught. For example, if students have been working on the addition of two-digit numbers using only computation problems, the test should not include word problems.

Adapted in part from Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessing & Grading in the Differentiated Classroom, by R. Wormeli, 2006.

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