Content area assessments

Reading - Language Arts

Passage considerations

  • Rigor and complexity appropriate for current students
  • Measure learning in the context of current instruction and content knowledge
  • Students have the background knowledge to understand reading

Passages in context with instruction and background knowledge will more accurately measure student performance. If not, the resulting data will provide insufficient insight into learning, especially for English learners and students struggling reading classroom content.

Long passages rush completion

If the reading load is too much, students will rush to finish the assessment.

Balance text complexity

A balance of grade level text complexity best measures student achievement. If a passage pushes the boundary of complexity, look for indicators within the passage to help plan future instruction. Is the reading hard, but fair and using the appropriate content matter?

Make reading worth the student’s time

The length of the passage justifies the number of items used to assess the reading

Too many items exhaust a passage.

Longer passages support more questions, but using too many items will over-burden the text. A clue for overuse is queuing, one question helps a student answer another question.

Passages support more than one standard

Appropriate vocabulary in passages and items. The passage mix should challenge students, but not all reading has to be complex. Challenging and complex passages will lower performance for students struggling with grade level reading.


Math standards work together

Include standards within a cluster or domain that complement each other to test conceps.

For example, in elementary grades place value can be evaluated using items identifying place value, rounding numbers, and addition with regrouping. Students show their understanding of place value in different but connected ways.

Items address concepts in different ways

Selected response and constructed response questions working together provide a better picture of student thinking and learning.

Grade level math vocabulary

Using grade-appropriate math vocabulary, along with mixed item types will provide an improved understanding of student learning needs. It will be essential to decide what modifications or support will be available for students that may not understand the question due to reading skills, not math proficiency.

Use grade-appropriate numbers

Vary digits, length, and the types of numbers used in the questions. For example, if testing fractions, select items with a variety of denominators.

Vary complexity and difficulty

Assessments that are too hard or too easy will not provide instructional or feedback value.

Be careful not to over-test a concept or standard

Typically 5 - 10 items with mixed complexity or difficulty will provide quality performance data.


Effective science assessments measure student understanding and learning of concepts. Standards-based questions should work together to create a picture of student understanding.

  1. Identify the important idea of the domain to select standards.
  2. Analyze the skills and concepts within the standards to gauge how they work together to create a learning story.
  3. Broad standards effect the coverage of learning measured in the test. Because of the complementary nature of science standards, it is common to see overlap and cueing across questions.
  4. Standards with many skills need more items or a performance task to allow students to show learning across the skills within a standard.
  5. Science tests easily over-burden a concept or skill. This happens often with popular or interesting concepts.