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5: Writing Short-Answer and Essay Items

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    35654
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    SHORT Answer ITEMS

    The following examples will demonstrate that the short answer item is adaptable to each of the cognitive hierarchical levels within the major content areas as well as the daily living skills and employability training areas.

    KNOWLEDGE: At this level, the students are expected to recall information; no comprehension or understanding of information is expected at this level.

    Mathematics (May be administered orally)

    You can use the short answer test to sample your student’s knowledge of addition facts.

    What is the sum of 9+4?

    13

    Written in question form, this memory-level item samples the student’s knowledge of the addition combinations.

    Science (May be administered orally)

    During a unit on animal and plant classifications, you can use the short answer test to sample your student’s knowledge of the animal families.

    Of which family is the dog a member?

    Canine

    This short answer question does not involve actual classification, which would be analysis; instead, it necessitates the simple recall of memorized, factual information. Structurally, this question-form item is direct in its questioning and provides for one answer without giving an unintentional clue.

    Social Studies (May be administered orally)

    During an Early United States History unit, you can use the short answer test as a proficient and economical means for sampling your student’s knowledge of important dates.

    Write the year in which the Declaration of Independence was signed.

    1776

    This command-form item elicits the recall of the date associated with a significant event. Moreover, it provides for a single answer without giving any clues.

    English-Language Arts (May be administered orally)

    As a means of determining your student’s knowledge of books and their authors, you can use the short answer test for making such a determination.

    What is the first and last name of the author of Brown Bear Brown Bear, What Do You See? (Carle, 1967).

    Eric Carle

    This question form of a short answer item asks the student to recall the first and last name of the author of a familiar book. It is direct, to-the-point, and clearly requests a single answer, while simultaneously providing no clues for this answer.

    Daily Living Skills (May be administered orally)

    Aware that your student must know certain biographical information about herself, you will find the short answer item to be an excellent instrument for sampling such student knowledge.

    Write the day, month, and year of your birth.

    November 18, 2009

    This command-type short answer item is direct and specific in calling for the student’s reproduction of precise personal information. Although precise in its provision for an exact answer, the item gives no unwarranted clues.

    Employability Training Skills (May be administered orally)

    You can use the short answer item as a vehicle for determining your student’s knowledge of the functions of specific vocations.

    What is the occupational title of the individual who repairs automobile engines?

    Mechanic

    With the use of the term occupational, this question-structured short answer item deters irrelevant answers without providing a clue to the memorized answer.

    COMPREHENSION: At this level, the student should be able to demonstrate the ability to: explain, summarize, or comprehend information; translate information from one form or level to another; predict continuations in trends of data.

    Mathematics (May be administered orally)

    Understanding that the ability to translate information from one form to another is a component of the comprehension level, you can use the short answer test to sample your student’s understanding that numbers of objects have Arabic number counterparts.

    Write the number that tells how many triangles are shown: ▲▲▲.

    3

    A correct response to this command-form short answer item indicates that the student comprehends that the number 3 has more than one form. Also, the item is clear, to-the-point, and provides for a single correct answer without alluding to what the answer is.

    Science (May be administered orally)

    Different terms may be used to name the same weather condition. With this understanding, you may wish to use the short answer test to measure your student’s ability to translate weather terminology from one form to another.

    What is another scientific term for cyclone ?

    Tornado

    A correct response to this question-form short answer item demonstrates that the student is able to translate one weather term to a synonymous term. Clear in its structure, the item enhances provision for a correct answer with the word scientific, but it offers no clue to this answer.

    Social Studies (May be administered orally)

    You may decide to determine the extent to which your student has comprehended the essence of certain political documents. The short answer item is a suitable vehicle for making this determination.

    Basically, what is the Magna Carta’s position regarding a person who has been accused of committing a crime?

    Innocent until proven guilty.

    The question-form short answer asks for the essence of a political document, which necessitates basic understanding on the part of the student. Moreover, the item is direct in its questioning, provides for a correct answer, but furnishes no clues to that answer.

    English-Language Arts (May be administered orally)

    You will probably want to learn the extent to which your student has comprehended a reading selection. The short answer item is a proficient and economical means for making such an assessment.

    What species of owl would be further endangered by the construction of the restaurant in Hoot ? (Hiaasen, 2005).

    Ground Owl

    This question-form short answer samples the student’s reading comprehension, in that the book makes minimal mention as to the kind of owl that is endangered. Also, the word species assures the provision of a single correct answer, but no clue is given regarding this answer.

    Daily Living Skills (May be administered orally)

    Understanding that several words can be used to describe the same phenomenon or action is an important life skill. With this in mind, you can use the short answer item to assess your student’s comprehension of such terminology.

    If you are told that your vehicle must be inspected annually , how often must it be inspected?

    Once a year.

    Specifically worded to enhance the provision for a correct answer, this question-form short answer item gives no clue pertaining to this answer.

    Employability Training Skills (May be administered orally)

    When providing the student with vocational information, it is important that she be able to comprehend the meaning of certain terminologies. Understanding this, you can use the short answer test to gauge your student’s comprehension of specific terminologies.

    What does it mean if your employer tells you that if you miss work without a good reason, “you will be terminated ?”

    Ex: I will be fired.

    Although the student could phrase the above example differently, there is only one correct answer, which makes scoring the answer relatively easy for you. Hence, the wording of the item is clear and devoid of any clues regarding the correct answer.

    APPLICATION: At this level, the student should demonstrate the ability to take information that has been acquired and comprehended and use it in a concrete situation.

    Mathematics (May be administered orally)

    You can use the short answer item to sample your student’s ability to apply subtraction concepts in the concrete situation of word problems.

    If Elo had a $5.00 bill and bought a magazine that cost $2.95, how much change should he receive?

    $5.00

    -$2.95

    $2.05

    This is an application-level item in that it requires the student to apply the principles of subtraction to the solution of a word problem. Brief and direct, the problem calls for a precise answer without supplying clue to that answer.

    Science (May be administered orally)

    As part of a science unit, you may wish to assess your student’s ability to read a weather thermometer. The short answer item is a feasible vehicle for making such an assessment.

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    What is the reading on the above thermometer? Be sure to write whether it is above or below freezing.

    70° above freezing

    This is an application-level item because the student must record the thermometer’s reading, thus applying previously learned skills in a concrete situation.

    Social Studies (May be administered orally)

    Despite a reliance on digital time pieces, reading the time on a face clock remains an important skill. Acknowledging this, you will probably want to determine your student’s skills in this area. The short answer item is most adaptable for making such an assessment.

    Image result for clock showing 10:10

    What is the time according to the above clock?

    10:10

    This item is application-level because it calls on the student to use his previously learned skills in a concrete situation. The item is terse, avoids an irrelevant answer (“according to the above clock?”), and provides no clues.

    English-Language Arts (May be administered orally)

    Using an assigned word in an original sentence is an application-level activity. Aware of this, you can use short answer items to assess your student’s application skills in this capacity.

    Use the word “walk” as a noun in a complete sentence. Do your best not to make any mistakes in your writing.

    Ex: My mother and I went for a walk.

    Using a vocabulary word in the concrete situation of a sentence evidences that it has previously been acquired and comprehended. It should also be noted that even though the directions encourage a mistake-free sentence, it is your decision as whether to subtract points for sentence errors. However, such subtractions should be predetermined and specified.

    Daily Living Skills (May be administered orally)

    An important life skill is reacting appropriately to a life-threatening situation. Accepting this, you may wish to present your student with a hypothetical situation that would enable her to react in an appropriate manner to such a situation. The short answer item is applicable for this type of scenario.

    You are home alone with your mother, she begins coughing and falls lifelessly to the floor. You see a telephone. What is the first number you should dial?

    911

    This is an application level item in that the student must respond to an emergency situation on the basis of information that she has acquired and comprehended. The item asks for a single right answer by emphasizing the word first , but gives no clues pertaining to the correct answer.

    Employability Training Skills (May be administered orally)

    The ability to compute the wages to which one is entitled is an important employability training skill. With this in mind, you can use the short answer item to assess your student’s ability to make such computations.

    If you are entitled to a 7% sales commission, how much money should you receive if you sold one item for $400.00 and another item for $375.00?

    $400,00 $775.00

    +$375.00 x .07

    $775.00 $54.25

    This is an employability training skill application-level item because the student must compute her sales commissions on two items. The problem is clear and calls for a single right answer, but gives no clues leading to this answer.

    ANALYSIS: At this level, the student must demonstrate the ability to: break a unified whole down into is basic pats and understand the relationships among those parts; compare and contrast phenomena; understand metaphor and analogies; understand the relationship between cause and effect.

    Mathematics (May be administered orally)

    The comparing and contrasting of phenomena is a component of the analysis level. With this in mind, you can use the short answer item to sample your student’s ability to grasp the presence of similarities and differences between geometrical figures.

    List one similarity and once difference between a square and a rectangle.

    Ex. Both have four sides. A square has four equal sides, but a rectangle does not.

    It should be remembered that virtually any concept can be arrested at the knowledge level if the student simply memorizes acquired information In the above example, however, the student must analyze the two shapes to arrive at the answer, which elevates the item into the analysis level. Additionally, the item calls for a correct answer, which may include examples other than the sample answers. Nevertheless, the item is objective and involves convergent thinking, which is directed toward conventionally accepted answers. Hence, the item provides for correct answers, without supplying any clues to the answers.

    Science (May be administered orally)

    Understanding cause and effect relationships is a component of the analysis-level. Embracing this position, you can use the short answer item to assess your student’s ability to understand causes and effects of chemical interactions.

    What occurs when baking soda is mixed with vinegar?

    Ex. It fizzes, it bubbles.

    The answer above reflects an understanding of the cause of a chemical reaction (effect). Although there is a predetermined correct answer, you will want to allow for different phrasings. Also, the item is specific, calls for a correct answer, and offers no clue to that answer.

    Social Studies (May be administered orally)

    Understanding cause and effect relationships is an analysis component. Acknowledging this, you may wish to assess your student’s ability to determine the cause and effect of a historical event. The short answer is an excellent model for making this assessment.

    What is the primary reason that most of the Pilgrims wanted to come to the New World?

    Ex. Religious Freedom

    Assuming the student was not given this answer directly, this is an analysis-level item because it calls for the understanding of a cause and effect relationship. Moreover, it is worded so that only one answer is appropriate, “ primary reason that most of the Pilgrims…;” however, no clues regarding this single correct answer are given.

    English-Language Arts (May be administered orally)

    A component of analysis is the demonstrated ability to break a unified whole down into its basic parts and to understand the relationships among those parts. With this in mind, you can use the short answer item to sample your student’s ability to break down a word into syllables.

    Divide the word transportation into syllables and mark the syllable that is accented.

    Trans por ta’ tion

    This is an analysis-level item because in breaking down the word into syllables, the student is demonstrating an understanding of the relationship between the parts. The item is specifically stated, calling for a single correct answer; but it is the teacher’s decision as whether to award partial credit for a partially correct answer.

    Daily Living Skills (May be administered orally)

    An understanding of the analysis level component of cause and effect relationships is an important life skill. You may use the short answer item to sample your student’s ability to demonstrate such an understanding.

    If you do not pay your electric bill after several notices from the company, what is the electric company most likely to do?

    Ex. Turn off my electricity.

    The correct answer to this question is a demonstration of the understanding of a cause and effect relationship. Although the student’s phrasing may differ from that of the sample answer, there remains only one correct answer, which is not alluded to in the question.

    Employability Training Skills (May be administered orally)

    An understanding of general cause and effect relationships in the work place is an essential employability training skill component. With this acknowledgement, you can use the short answer item to sample your student’s perception of such cause and effect relationships.

    What will probably happen to you if you are frequently late for work.

    Ex. I’ll lose my job; I’ll be fired.

    A correct answer to this question is indicative of the understanding of a cause and effect relationship. Even though each student’s phrasing may differ from that of the example, there is only one correct answer to the question because the question is clearly written, calling for a specific answer.

    SYNTHESIS: At this level, the student should be able to demonstrate the ability to: assemble parts into a new whole, formulate a new hypothesis or plan of action, construct a solution to an unfamiliar problem. Hence, many synthesis-level processes involve divergent thinking, which is thinking that leads in many different directions, with no predetermination of a single correct answer. This is not to insinuate, however, that there are no item guidelines, or that all student responses are acceptable. Indeed, the item should clearly and succinctly specify what is expected of the student, and the teacher should, when appropriate, predetermine the quantitative weight of each item.

    Mathematics (May be administered orally)

    Fully aware that a component of synthesis is the demonstrated ability to assemble parts into a new whole, you can use the short answer item to sample your student’s ability to assemble numerical parts into a designated whole.

    Show two different ways that pennies, nickels, and dimes can equal a quarter.

    Ex. 5 pennies, 2 nickels, and 1 dime

    10 pennies, 1 nickel, and 1 dime

    This is a synthesis-level item because the student must assemble individual monetary denominations into a designated whole. It is your responsibility to predetermine the point value of the item so that whole or partial credit may be awarded consistently and objectively. For example, you could provide a maximum of two points for each correct sum and one point for each sum that is within two cents of the correct answer. Whether you would award points for using only two denominations would be your decision.

    Science (May be administered orally)

    Enhancing the environment is a major societal concern. Aware of this you can use the short answer item to sample your student’s ability to derive creative ways for enhancing her neighborhood.

    List three (3) ways that you could help clean up your neighborhood.

    Ex.

    1. Don’t litter.

    2. Ask my friend to ask other people not to litter.

    3. Get friends to go with me around the neighborhood to pick up litter.

    Synthesis-level in that it taps the student’s personal creativity, this item calls for divergent thinking, which is thinking that moves in multiple directions. Nonetheless, you should predetermine a point value for this item that is conductive to both partial and full credit. For example, you could decide on a maximum of three points for each suggestion, depending on logic, originality, and feasibility.

    Social Studies (May be administered orally)

    Regrettably, many eligible voters do not exercise their privilege and responsibility of voting in elections. Convinced that your student accepts the importance of voting, you can use the short answer item to assess the student’s skills in creatively convincing others to vote.

    List two (2) techniques you could use to get more people to vote

    Ex.

    1. Offer to go to the polls with them.

    2. Offer to help them with their chores so they can go to the polls.

    This is a synthesis-level item because the student is required to demonstrate his creativity in assisting people to vote, thus formulating a solution to a problem. Despite, however, the diversity of possible answers, you should predetermine the point value of the item, possibly based on creativity, realistic potential, etc. Hence, you could allow as many as three points for each suggested technique, on the basis of creativity and realistic potential.

    English-Language Arts (May be administered orally)

    Demonstrating the ability to use the parts of speech in a sentence is usually an application-level performance. However, using these parts of speech in a creative fashion is a synthesis-level activity. Understanding this, you can use the short answer item to sample your student’s ability to use selected parts of speech in a sentence that requires the use of creativity.

    Write a sentence with a subject, verb, and direct object. You must label each of the three pars of speech, and the sentence must be about a soccer player.

    Ex. The goal keeper caught the ball.

    This item goes beyond the application-level because it requires the student to apply creatively what she has acquired and comprehended. Moreover, the required topic compels the student to be creative in a unique situation. As with any short answer item, you, the teacher, should predetermine its point value so that both partial and full credit may be earned. For example, you could specify a maximum of three points for adhering to the subject; one point for including each part of speech; and a maximum of three-points for creativity.

    Daily Living Skills (May be administered orally)

    The demonstrated ability to solve social problems is an essential life skill that, in some instances, can protect the student from physical harm. Aware of this, you could use the short answer item to assess your student’s ability to devise strategies for combating threatening social situations.

    List three (3) things that you could do if a bully threatens you.

    Ex.

    1. Politely ask him to explain what I have done to offend him.

    2. Apologize if I have offended her.

    3. Report the bully to my teacher.

    This is a synthesis-level item in that the student must solve a problem creatively. The item is direct in its instruction and calls for divergent or creative thinking. You, however, must predetermine a point value for the item that is dependent on your curricular standards. For example, you could allow up to five points for the overall sequence of the plan; and as many as three points for each of the three components, depending on creativity and feasibility.

    Employability Training Skills (May be administered orally)

    Tact and diplomacy on the job can often be the basis for advancement or dismissal. Accepting this premise, you can use the short answer item to sample your student’s creativity in solving potential on-the-job problems.

    List three (3) things you could do if confronted with a rude, complaining customer.

    Ex.

    1. Politely ask him to explain his problem.

    2. Attempt to take care of the problem myself.

    3. Ask my boss for assistance.

    This synthesis-level response necessitates the formulation of a solution to a unique problem. Although the student responses will vary greatly, it is important that the teacher predetermine a point value for the item, which could possibly include creativity, feasibility of approach, etc. For example, you could allow as many as five points for overall continuity of the three-part sequence; and three points for each of the three components, depending on creativity and feasibility of approach.

    EVALUATION: At this level, the student is required to make value judgements that are based on predetermined criteria or internal consistency. It should be remembered, however, that predetermined criteria are sometimes personal, based on an individual’s likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, etc. Hence, since predetermined criteria concerning phenomena are sometimes set by the individual herself, there can be no predetermined correct answer. Rather, the correctness of an answer, in such instances, should be assessed according to the individual’s supporting rationale.

    Mathematics (May be administered orally)

    Since there are often several methods that may be used to solve the same problem, selecting a particular method can be a value judgement. Understanding this, you could use the short answer item as a mode for assessing your student’s personally predetermined criteria for selecting a particular method for solving a problem.

    How would you determine how many chips there are in three (3) stacks, with four (4) chips in each stack? Select on of the following methods for finding the answer, and list two reasons why you would choose it. Multiply the number of stacks (3) times the number of chips (4) in each stack. Add the number of chips in each stack (4) three times (number of stacks). Count the number of chips.

    Ex. I would add the number of chips in each stack (4) three times (number of stacks). Because:

    1. I add better than I multiply;

    2. Counting takes too long, and I might miss one.

    This item, with its instruction for a value judgement, is evaluation-level. Moreover, even though the student makes a good case for his choice, he has alerted you to his need for multiplication assistance. As a suggestion, the rubric could allow for up to two points for each reason, depending on the logic of the student’s rationale.

    Science (May be administered orally)

    Value judgements are continually made within the science areas. Realizing this, you may wish to assess your student’s evaluation of current recycling practices.

    Do you think recycling should be voluntary or mandatory? List one reason for your choice.

    Mandatory, because many people wouldn’t do it voluntarily.

    Involving a value judgement, this is an evaluation-level item. Even though you may disagree with the position of the student, his reasoning is sound. Hence, it is imperative that you assess your student’s rationale for his position, as opposed to the position itself. Suggestively, a maximum of two points could be allotted for the student’s reasoning, depending on its logic.

    Social Studies (May be administered orally)

    Social issues are continual targets of value judgements. With this in mind, you can use the short answer item to sample your student’s evaluations of specific social phenomena.

    Do you think there should be a voluntary military, or should people also be drafted into the military? Give one reason for your position.

    I favor the draft because defending your country is everyone’s responsibility who is able to serve.

    This item is evaluation-level because it requires a value judgement that is based on the student’s personally predetermined criteria. You may disagree with the student’s position, but you must be objective and grade the student’s reasoning rather than her position. Additionally, you should understand that both sides of this issue have numerous supporters. As a suggestion, you could provide for as many as two points for this answer, on the basis of logical consistency.

    English-Language Arts (May be administered orally)

    Interpreting literature often involves value judgements. Hence, you can use the short answer item to sample your student’s evaluation of specific literary personalities.

    In your opinion, who has the greatest survival skills: Maniac McGee or Mullet Fingers? (Spinelli, 1999). List two (2) reasons for your position.

    Mullet Fingers because:

    1. He can survive in the wilderness without adults;

    2. He never had to rely on a family or adults to survive.

    This is an evaluation-level item because a case can be made for Maniac McGee (Spinelli, 1999), e.g. he survived in cities, zoos, and in confrontations with formidable peers and adults. Thus, this is a value judgement based on predetermined criteria. Suggestively, the rubric could provide up to three points for each reason, depending on the documented skills of the character, as opposed to those of the other character.

    Daily Living Skills (May be administered orally)

    In their daily lives, people are frequently confronted with value judgements. Thus, you can use the short answer item to assess your student’s evaluation of specific social situations.

    Shortly after receiving your change from the supermarket cashier, you realize that he has given you $20.00 too much: the exact amount that you need for your mother’s birthday present. Would you keep the money or return it? List two (2) reasons for your choice.

    Keep it because:

    1. My mother is more important than the supermarket;

    2. I need the money more than the supermarket does.

    This is an evaluation-level item in that it necessitates a value judgement. In scoring the item, you must take into account that despite the student’s reasoning, he has been dishonest. However, you should also recognize that the student has made a case for his position. A rubric could possibly provide up to two points for each reason, on the basis of rationality; and a total of three points for continuity between the two reasons.

    Employability Training Skills (May be administered orally)

    On-the-job personal relations can be crucial to job performance. However, maintaining personal relations can sometimes conflict with vocational ethics and honesty. With this in mind, you can use the short answer item to assess your student’s value judgement in such conflicts.

    If you saw a co-worker taking money from the cash register, would you report him/her? List two (2) reasons for your position.

    I would ask the person to put the money back or I would report him/her because:

    1. He/she should be given a chance;

    2. I want to avoid trouble with my co-workers.

    This is an evaluation-level item because it requires a value judgement. Even though you may disagree with the student’s position, you should assess the student’s reasoning rather than his position per se . As for scoring, you could designate up to two points for each reason, depending on rationale; and as many as three points for consistency between the two reasons.

    ESSAY ITEMS

    Levels Suitable for Measurement

    A well-constructed essay item allows for an analytic examination of specified content areas, daily living skills, and employability training areas; and it serves as a vehicle for the assessment of both creative and persuasive expression at the Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation levels. (To assess performance at the Knowledge, Comprehension, and Application levels, we recommend that you select from among previously discussed items.)

    ANALYSIS : At this level, the student should be able to demonstrate the ability to: breakdown a unified whole into its basic parts and understand the relationships among the parts; determine cause and effect relationships; understand analogies and metaphor; categorize phenomena.

    Mathematics (May be administered orally)

    Questioning whether or not your student can conceptualize both similarities and differences between the processes of addition and multiplication, you may use the essay item to assess his ability to determine such similarities and differences.

    EXAMPLE

    image9.png

    Explain how you can either add or multiply to find the total number of squares in these three rows. Then, explain how multiplying and adding are both alike and different. Include in your explanation, one similarity and one difference between addition and multiplication.

    Analysis-level in that it instructs the student to compare and contrast two phenomena, so as to understand both a commonality and difference between them, this item is specific in its requirements. It begins with a task-directed statement and then proceeds to call for an explanation that includes one similarity and one difference between the two. Such clarity makes for an understandable rubric, which could provide a maximum of three points for the explanation, depending on its clarity and detail, and up to two points for each noted similarity and difference. Nonetheless, it is your professional prerogative to predetermine a personally designated number of points to each section of the rubric.

    Science (May be administered orally)

    With the awareness that a component of the analysis level is a demonstrated ability to classify phenomena, you can use the essay item to assess your student’s ability to determine whether a particular planet is capable of sustaining human life.

    EXAMPLE: Within two or three paragraphs, discuss whether the planet Mars is suitable for sustaining human life. In your discussion, decide whether human needs could be met by each of the following properties of Mars: (1) atmosphere (2) water (3) climate (4) food sources.

    Involving classification, this is an analysis-level item. Moreover, with its task-directed statement, the item is clear in terms of what is expected of the student, which is conducive to an easily constructed rubric. For example, you could decide to provide a maximum of four points for organization, a maximum of 3 points for the student’s comparison of human needs with each of the four characteristics of the planet; and two points for whether Mars could or could not sustain human life.

    Social Studies (May be administered orally)

    Analyzing phenomena for the purpose of determining similarities and differences between them is an analysis-level endeavor. Hence, after a geography unit, you can use the essay item to assess your student’s ability to analyze commonalities and differences between states.

    EXAMPLE: Within two paragraphs, compare and contrast the topography of Arizona and Texas. In your discussion, include two similarities and two differences.

    This analysis-level item, involving the analytic comparison of two states, begins with a task-directed statement specifying precisely what is expected of the student. Such specificity serves a two-fold purpose: (1) it communicates exactly what is expected of the student and (2) it makes for an easily constructed rubric. Suggestively, you could predetermine a maximum of four points for organization, and up to three points for each similarity and difference, depending on accuracy and detail.

    English-Language Arts (May be administered orally)

    Deciphering the moral of a story necessitates an analytic involvement. With this acknowledgement, you can use the essay item to determine your student’s ability to uncover the moral of a given reading assignment.

    EXAMPLE: Within two paragraphs, name and explain the moral of “ The Little Engine That Could” (Piper, 1978 ). Include in your explanation, three examples from the story that will support your interpretation of the story’s moral.

    This is an analysis-level item because it requires the student to extract a moral lesson from the story. Moreover, it sets the tone for an essay response with “Within two paragraphs” and “in your explanation.” Also, the item defines what is expected of the student, and it provides for an easy construction of an effective rubric. As a suggestion, you may provide for as many as five points for the student’s interpretation of the story’s moral and a maximum of three points for each of the supporting examples.

    Daily Living Skills (May be administered orally)

    The understanding of cause and effect relationships is an analysis-level concept; thus, understanding the consequence of one’s behavior is a component of this concept. With this in mind, you can use the essay item to assess your student’s ability to demonstrate an understanding of cause and effect relationships regarding her personal behavior.

    EXAMPLE: Within two paragraphs, explain an immediate consequence of not paying the insurance premium on your vehicle. Then, describe a negative event that could occur as a result of the first consequence.

    This is an analysis-level item because it necessitates an understanding of sequential cause and effect relationships: (1) the cancellation of the policy and (2) the possible occurrence of an automotive accident without insurance. As a suggestion for rubric point value, you could predetermine a maximum of three points for the “immediate consequence” up to three points for the “negative event”, and three points for organization, with each of these maximum point values depending on clarity and detail.

    Employability Training Skills (May be administered orally)

    An individual’s behavior in virtually any job-related area, regardless of how remote, directly or indirectly affects his chances for promotion, demotion, or termination. Accepting this premise, you can use the essay item to assess your student’s ability to determine cause and effect relationships in the world of work.

    EXAMPLE: Assuming that you have previously been warned about being late for work, what do you think will happen to you if you are late for work again? Please explain, within two paragraphs , what you think probably will happen, not what should happen if you are late for work again. In your explanation, include two reasons that support your position.

    This is an analysis-level item in that it requires the student to uncover a cause and effect relationship. As further evidence to its analysis-level requirement, the item specifies “what probably will happen, not what should happen” (which could be indicative of the evaluation level). Then, in predetermining the rubric point value, you could provide as many as five points for determining the effect, a maximum of three points for organization, and up to three points for each supporting reason, depending on accuracy and detail.

    SYNTHESIS: At this level the student should be able to demonstrate the ability to: assemble parts into a new whole; formulate a new hypothesis or plan of action; construct a solution to an unfamiliar problem.

    Mathematics (May be administered orally)

    Aware that the demonstrated ability to assemble separate parts into a new whole is a component of the synthesis-level, you could decide to use the essay item to assess your student’s ability to perform this assemblage.

    EXAMPLE: Take the numbers 2, 6, 8 and two other numbers of your choice. Then combine then to create a number that is greater than eighty-six thousand. You might use all of these numbers, but none more than once. Then, explain in detail the steps that you took to arrive at the number that is greater than eighty-six thousand.

    This synthesis-level item, with its instruction to assemble parts into a new whole, incorporates each of the previous cognitive levels: knowledge (2, 6, 8, and two numbers of your own); comprehension (86,000 which is another form of eighty-six thousand); application (since the student must count the places); and analysis (he must analyze the original three numbers and his selected numbers in order to place the 8 at the beginning of the new number). With respect to your rubric, you could provide up to five points for a correct number, and as many as five points for the student’s explanation, depending on the accuracy and detail.

    Science (May be administered orally)

    During a unit on the relationship between animals and their respective environments, you may decide to assess not only your student’s understanding of these relationships (comprehension) but also his ability to express his understanding of cause and effect relationships (analysis) creatively (synthesis). The essay item is an excellent vehicle for making such assessments.

    EXAMPLE: Within two paragraphs, describe some necessary changes that would have to take place in a crocodile for it to live in the desert. In your description, include three changes and explain how each would help the crocodile live in the desert.

    Synthesis-level in its requirement for the student to create imaginary changes in an animal, this item is clear and precise in specifying exactly what is expected of the student. Moreover, this clarity lends itself to the construction of a clearly defined rubric. For example, the rubric could allow a maximum of four points for each change, three points for the supportive reasoning for each change, three points for organization, and three points for a combination of grammar, mechanics, and spelling.

    Social Studies (May be administered orally)

    Community awareness and enhancement of the environment are civic responsibilities. Accepting this premise, you may decide to use the essay item to assess your student’s ability to develop a plan for enhancing the environment of his community.

    EXAMPLE: In two or three paragraphs, develop a plan for cleaning up an illegal dump in your neighborhood. In your plan, explain how you would obtain it; and explain how you would get the trash removed and where it would be taken.

    Synthesis-level in that it involves developing a plan of action, this item is conducive to a clearly defined rubric. For example, you could predetermine a maximum of five points for the explanation regarding the involvement of friends and adults; a total of four points for the description of the necessary equipment and its procurement; four maximum points for the explanation of how and where the rubbish would be removed and taken; a total of five points for organization; and three total points for spelling, grammar and mechanics.

    English Language Arts (May be administered orally)

    Creative writing and storytelling usually surface throughout the K-12 curriculum. Hence, you may wish to assess your student’s creativity in writing or telling her own stories. The essay item is suitable means for assessing such creativity.

    EXAMPLE: Within two or three paragraphs, write a story that contains a dog, a birthday, a book, a rain storm, and a happy ending. Although you will be assessed on content and organization, be sure to watch your spelling, grammar, capitalization, and punctuation.

    The required inclusion of the five components compels the student to be creative in areas that she probably otherwise would have bypassed. Also, each of these components can be factored into the rubric with a possible four points each, depending on how it fits into the story. Moreover, the rubric could allow for as many as five points for creativity, four for organization, and three for combined spelling, grammar, capitalization and punctuation.

    Daily Living Skills (May be administered orally)

    The ability to deal effectively with bullies can be an important life skill, and this ability is often related to the child’s creative actions. With this in mind, you could decide to use the essay item to assess your student’s creative endeavors in hypothetical situations with bullies.

    EXAMPLE: A bully threatens to beat you up if you do not give him your new basketball, and he also threatens to beat you up again if you tell anyone that he took your ball. Within two paragraphs, explain how you would convince this bully not to take your ball or beat you up, and explain why you think your plan could work.

    This synthesis-level item, calling on the student to exercise his creativity in a threatening situation, is clear in its requirements, which makes for a clearly defined rubric. For example, you could predetermine a maximum of 5 points for the student’s plan, depending on the persuasiveness of his argument; a maximum of five points for the underlying reasoning of his plan, depending on its logic; three maximum points for organization; and a total of three points for mechanics, grammar, and spelling.

    Employability Training Skills (May be administered orally)

    Positive relationships among co-workers are crucial vocational factors within any organization. With this in mind, you may decide to present your student with a scenario involving a co-worker. The essay item is suitable for such a scenario.

    EXAMPLE: While working as a server in a restaurant, you see a co-worker take your tip from the table, shortly after customers have left. Within two to three paragraphs, explain how you would handle the situation in a way that would enable you to get your tip, and prevent your co-worker from getting into trouble. Include in your explanation why you think your plan could work.

    The scenario of this item allows the student to be creative in formulating a plan that could prevent money from being taken from him, simultaneously preventing the occurrence of negative on-the-job sound relations. Because of its specificity, the item lends itself to quantitative rubrics. For example, you could predetermine a total of six points for the plan itself, depending on quality and feasibility; and six total points for the supporting reasoning, depending on its rationale; four points maximum for organization; and three points total for grammar, mechanics, and spelling.

    EVALUATION: At this level the student should demonstrate the ability to make a value judgement on the basis of predetermined criteria and/or internal consistency.

    Mathematics (May be administered orally)

    A student may prefer one operational approach to a problem over another, or she may simply prefer one operation per se over another. These preferences, value judgements, are often based on the student’s personally predetermined criteria, which may be the amount of confidence she has in using one method as opposed to another. The essay item is an excellent source for disclosing such perceptions, while simultaneously allowing for the assessment of the student’s reasoning.

    EXAMPLE: Given a choice, had you rather solve a problem by adding or multiplying? Within two paragraphs, explain your preference. In your explanation, include two reasons for your choice. You will be assessed on: (1) the logic, organization, and detail of each of your reasons and (2) the overall organization and clarity of your explanation.

    This is an evaluation-level item because it calls on the student to make a value judgement that is based on her personally predetermined criteria. You should design the rubric to assess the student’s reasoning for his choice, rather than the choice itself. For example, this rubric could allow up to three points for each of the reasons, and a maximum of three points for overall organization and clarity.

    SCIENCE (May be administered orally)

    Following a study of significant inventions, you can use the essay item to assess your student’s comparative evaluation of two or more of the studied inventions. The essay item is most suitable for assessing your student’s evaluative reasoning.

    EXAMPLE: Which invention, the telephone or the combustible engine, do you think has had the greater impact on American life? Within two paragraphs, justify your choice. In your justification, include three factual reasons for your choice. You will be assessed on the logic and organization of each of your three reasons, and on the general organization and clarity of your justification.

    Evaluation-level with its requirement for a comparative value judgement, the item is clear in its instruction to the student. Additionally, this clarity makes for the construction of clearly defined rubrics. For example, you could designate a maximum of five points for each of the three supporting reasons, and five points for overall organization and clarity.

    Social Studies (May be administered orally)

    The controversy regarding capital punishment reflects value judgements that are long-standing in American history. After an objective examination of this issue, you could use the essay item to assess your student’s evaluation of the issue.

    EXAMPLE: Within two or three paragraphs, discuss whether you agree or disagree with capital punishment. In your essay, include three reasons to support your position.

    With its instruction for a value judgement, this is an evaluation-level item. Since it is definite in its requirements, it is conducive to an easily constructed and understandable rubric. For example, you could predetermine to allow for as many as five points for each of the reasons, depending on logic, accuracy, and detail; and a maximum of four points for overall continuity, clarity, and organization.

    English Language Arts (May be administered orally)

    Many stories and books contain morals that teach us valuable lessons. Determining which of these lessons is more valuable often involves value judgements. With this in mind, you can use the essay item to assess your student’s reasoning for assigning comparatively more value to one particular story’s moral than another’s.

    EXAMPLE: Which story do you think teaches the more valuable lesson, The Little Engine that Could (Piper, 1978) or The Boy Who Cried Wolf? (Giles, 1998). Within two or three paragraphs, justify your choice. In your discussion, include three reasons for your choice.

    With its requirement for a value judgement, this is an evaluation-level item. Moreover, its specific requirement for the student’s response is conducive to a clearly defined rubric. For example, you could predetermine a possible five points for each reason, depending on logic, continuity, and accuracy; and as many as four points for overall organization and detail; and a maximum of three points for grammar, spelling, and usage.

    Daily Living Skills (May be administered orally)

    Almost daily, each student is confronted with situations that necessitate value judgements. Acknowledging this, you can use the essay item to assess the reasoning underlying the value judgements that your student would make when confronted with an unavoidable situation.

    EXAMPLE: Although you have warned your friend about stealing, your friend steals a CD, while the two of you are shopping, and runs out the door. The store manager confronts you and demands that you give him your friend’s name. Within two paragraphs, explain what you would do. In your explanation, include three reasons for your choice. You will be assessed on the logic, clarity, and organization of your reasoning. Also, your very best writing is expected.

    Evaluation-level in that it necessitates a value judgement in a social situation, this item is clear and definite in its requirements. Specifically, it presents a scenario in which the student must determine whether to reveal the name of a friend who engages in thievery. Then, the item instructs the student to include two supporting reasons for her decision, which makes for a clearly defined rubric. For example, you could predetermine a total of five points for each of the three reasons, depending on accuracy, clarity, and continuity; and up to five points for general organization, grammar, and usage.

    Employability Training Skills (May be administered orally)

    Resolutions of conflicts between salary and job satisfaction usually involve value judgements. With this awareness, you can use the essay item in assessing the reasoning that guides your student’s value judgements regarding salary as opposed to job satisfaction.

    EXAMPLE: Which would you prefer: a job that you enjoyed, or a job that you did not like, but paid more money than the one you enjoyed? Within two or three paragraphs, explain your decision. In your explanation, include three reasons for your choice. You will be assessed on organization, clarity, and logic of your reasons. Also, your very best writing is expected.

    Evaluation-level in that it places the student in a scenario where she must make a value judgement, this item is clear and direct in its communication to the student. Moreover, such clarity and directionality are conducive to the formulation of a clearly defined rubric. Specifically, you could allow for as many as five pints for each of the three reasons, depending on logic, accuracy, and detail; and up to six points for general organization and clarity.

    SUMMARY

    Short-Answer Item

    Some measurement specialists equate the short-answer with the completion item, perceiving each as confined to the Knowledge level, and some make no distinction between the structures of the two items. As we have demonstrated, however, the short-answer item can be an effective vehicle for measurement in each of the cognitive levels within all of the areas. Either as a question or a command, this item is a useful device for measuring both convergent and divergent thinking. The items must indicate exactly what is expected of the students, however, so that you are confident that the students’ responses are true indicators of what they actually know. Nevertheless, as always, the items should contain no hints or clues to the correct answers.

    Essay Item

    The essay item has definite strengths as well as pronounced limitations. A primary strength is its allowance for a detailed, in-depth analysis of a small area of focus. Moreover, it permits the assessment of the students’ analytical, organizational, and creative skills. Hence, the item should be employed at the Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation levels, leaving assessment at the first three levels to some of the other types of test items. If you wish to cover broad areas of material, forgo the essay item in favor of one of the other types, especially the multiple-choice item, if it is your intent to test students at the Knowledge, Comprehension, Application or Analysis levels.

    As always, the item should specify precisely what is expected of the students to ensure that they understand what is expected of them; it also makes for an easily constructed and task-specific rubric. Even with clearly defined rubrics, it is important that you grade essays item-by-item as opposed to paper-by-paper. With this procedure, you are grading the papers more anonymously-grading papers rather than people.



    This page titled 5: Writing Short-Answer and Essay Items is shared under a CC BY-ND license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Edwin P. Christmann, John L. Badgett, & Mark D. Hogue.

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