When teachers develop authentic assessments, the most important thing is to assure that the content they taught matches what is on the assessment. Likewise, the verbs used in the curriculum dictate what students are to do during the assessment. Teachers also pay close attention to assure the cognitive level expected of the students matches the test questions. While these areas are critical for alignment, it is also important that the appearance of any written portion of an assessment be considered. We don’t want students to be confused or distracted from demonstrating their learning just because of the way assessment tasks are laid out. Here are some points to consider when formatting written assessments, or written directions for performances and products.
- Font. Use a style of font familiar to students. Do not use script or something they may have difficulty reading. Check with your district to see if there is a font preference for all documents. Some districts require certain styles because they take less printer ink to produce. Twelve-point is a commonly used size. If you want to emphasize something of importance, just increase the size by a couple points or make it bold. Otherwise, keep the same font throughout the entire assessment.
- Title. Place content area and the title of the assessment at the top of the front page. If the assessment addresses a specific outcome, list the complete outcome, including the coding numbers.
- Directions. Include specific directions for each section on the assessment. Directions can be put in italics, underlined, or bold so they stand out from the rest of the assessment. If there are selected response questions, such as matching, multiple choice, or true/ false, make it clear where students are to put their answers. Some teachers prefer that students circle the answer, while others want them to write the correct “letter” in a provided blank. Specify if students need to write out the word “True” or just put a “T” in the blank. If the question is a constructed response, where students are developing their own answers, provide a point value at the end of each question.
- Spacing. Regardless of the type of assessment, the spacing between each question should be uniform. In a constructed response assessment, be sure to provide adequate spacing for students to supply their answers. If they are writing short answers, consider the general size of your students’ handwriting and plan space accordingly. Additional space may be required for questions having a higher point value. Essay questions should have whole pages, or should direct students to use separate pages. When students are required to label a diagram, picture, or complete a table, there should be ample room around the graphic. If there are several items to label in a tight space, draw a line that extends away from the area. Another option is to label each extended line with a letter and make a list of the letters out to the side for the students to place their answers.
- Answer blanks. Blanks need to be uniform in length. If there is a provided word bank for students to use to fill in their answers, make all blanks as long as the longest choice in the bank. Do not make two or three little blanks for answers that have two or three words.
- Selected Response Answers. Make realistic distracters (incorrect choices) in matching and multiple choice questions. The location of the distracters must be placed randomly. For example, do not put all of the distracters at the end of a word bank or list. With multiple choice questions, the sequencing of the correct answer should vary from question to question.
- Proofreading. Print a copy of your assessment and develop an answer key from the copy. Filling in the answer key may help you locate errors that electronic spell-check does not catch, such as typing errors that nevertheless are actual words. Developing an answer key can also ensure that all selected response questions do have the correct answer among those provided. Another option is to have a colleague proof the assessment for you. Sometimes directions may seem clear to the author but they may not be clear to others.
The overall goal of an assessment is to check for student understanding. We don’t want to try to “trick” students with confusing assessment content; we should make questions and directions as clear and simple as possible. Likewise, we don’t want to frustrate students because of poor assessment formatting. Following these suggestions throughout assessment development will decrease the chances of student error due to a formatting issue.