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 SRU professors write guide to creating near-perfect exams 




February 20, 2009

Contact: K.E. Schwab  




SRU professors write guide to creating near-perfect exams


SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Slippery Rock University's Edwin Christmann and John Badgett, professor of secondary education/foundations of education, have written the near-perfect book for college faculty, classroom teachers and others interested in creating the near-perfect exam.

            "Interpreting Assessment Data; Statistical Techniques You Can Use," published by the National Science Teachers Association, blends the increasingly important need for accountability with the need for using testing as a means to learning - both for the student and the teacher.

            For Christmann, a 14-year professor at SRU, the work has been on the drawing board for more than five years. "It is the compilation of a number of items I had been working on and what I have observed in the classroom," he said. "I saw there was a need for the statistical component of assessment. I started working on the project for my class, and it then expanded."

            Christmann said that although students in SRU's College of Education receive coursework in assessment, including how to create tests and then use them in assessing classroom learning, others involved in designing assessment statistics frequently receive little to no instruction. "Our book shows how assessment and validity can be used to aid assessment of learning," he said.

            Badgett, who joined the SRU faculty in 1968, said the book started as a "very large project. In fact, we have since broken it into three separate books." The others are due out next month.

            "Edwin teaches the statistics side of assessment in his courses, and I teach the quantitative research side in my classes, so our teaching just goes hand-in-hand, like in the book," Badgett said. "This is a book for people involved in staff development in the school as well as for classroom teachers. It will also be used as a textbook for college students majoring in education," he said.

            Christmann admits no test is absolutely perfect, but said, "Teachers can use the information in our book to get very near creation of the perfect test, and that truly is the overall goal." Part of the success in testing comes from reliability of the test's outcome over time, he said. 

            The book also addresses testing outside the classroom. "The concepts of the book can be applied to any kind of test - creating a driver's license exam for example. The goal is to measure a student's learning and understanding and by constantly assessing and then revising the test in the proper way, the goal can be achieved," he said.

            The book offers help in understanding achievement tests, aptitude tests, intelligence tests, norm-referenced tests, standardized tests, teacher-generated tests, test bias and a host of other test-related topics.

            The history of the development of assessment and testing are also covered in the book. Christmann said some of the earliest tests were developed around 2000 BC for Chinese civil service exams. Most recent reforms and interest in testing came about in the 20th century. "It was about that time that objective and aptitude tests came about. The Iowa Achievement Test generated interest in Iowa and across the country, and quickly led to teaching to standardized testing concepts," he said. 

            The National Science Teacher's Association, the world's largest professional organization promoting excellence and innovation in science teacher and learning, said the book will "give educators the means to define performance, determine whether goals have been met, and be accountable. It presents a practical and non-threatening approach to all aspects of assessment and tackles statistical analysis with a framework that teachers can use to examine and calculate data of student performance."

           The book includes chapters on basic assessment concepts as well as techniques and methods that include examining and calculating data regarding student performances and making computations by hand and by calculator; calculating central tendency and variation; determining class rank, percentile rank and standard scores from either classroom or norm-referenced data, and achievement and aptitude test data; calculating correlation, validity and reliability; and determining reliability and content validity.

            Christmann said factors going into test-taking are immeasurable, including such areas as the test taker's health on the day of the test, lighting, unplanned distractions, room temperature and a myriad of other dynamics. "There is never going to be a perfect test. The goal is to continually strive to make the test as accurate as possible; to keep reviewing and refining the test to assure statistical accuracy," he said.

            "The book is primarily designed to provide teachers with a resource for practical information on how to apply statistics to classroom data and assessment and thus improve learning," he said.


Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.

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