Assessment Insights

Test Items that Yield Rich Data: Part 1 of 3

[fa icon="calendar"] May, 2018 / by Press Room

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Authentic, multi-dimensional ELA assessments

Assessing-Todays-StandardsRigorous 21st-century standards for K–12 education—such as college and career readiness standards for ELA and math, and complex science standards—sharpen educators’ focus on what students should know and be able to do. While it’s not unusual for states to adopt new curriculum standards, what’s new over the past decade is the push toward integration of multiple dimensions in all these content areas.

In supporting many states in their transition to college and career readiness standards (such as the CCSS and similar state standards) and to 3-dimensional science standards (such as the NGSS*), we’ve taken the opportunity to consider the implications of the new standards on classroom instruction and assessment. So instead of merely adding the codes for the new standards to our checklists for item alignment, or “cross-walking” items in our inventories to the new standards, content and assessment experts at Measured Progress developed new approaches to item development that reflect the rigor and multi-dimensionality of the standard.

In addition, the current call for balanced assessment systems makes it clear that educators and policy makers need timely, targeted instructional information at the district and school levels, and effective, meaningful data for decision making at all levels, including statewide. And, given today’s discourse about testing time and cost, we need to use the least amount of time to provide the most information possible—to create test designs and test items that deliver strong results, fast.

We’ve created a white paper, “Assessing Today’s Standards: Multi-dimensional test items,” that describes our approach to meeting these challenges. In it you can find detailed information about our item specs for ELA, mathematics, and science, along with sample items, that support the need for assessments to indicate students’ strengths and needs at an actionable level.

English Language Arts: eMPower Assessments

eMPower Assessments™ give districts and states a coherent program for grades 3–8 in reading, writing and language, and mathematics, with all-new content written to CCR standards, available to administer up to three times per year. eMPower also gives early insight into college and career readiness through a direct predictive link with the score scale of the SAT® Suite of Assessments.

We probed the research behind CCR standards to inform the development of our detailed item specifications for English Language Arts (ELA). (See also “Research Basis for eMPower Standards.”) 


Many assessments report an overall score of students’ reading aptitude, encompassing reading comprehension and critical thinking skills (analysis and interpretation). eMPower goes further. For every student, eMPower provides scores for both reading comprehension and for analysis and interpretation. Items designated as “comprehension” ask students to effectively demonstrate key content knowledge. Items designated as “analysis and interpretation” evaluate students’ ability to examine, synthesize, and explain key concepts in texts.

eMPower passages and passage pairs are carefully selected to assess a variety of reading skills at a range of cognitive levels, based on student learning progressions and grade-level expectations.  

Writing and Language

eMPower writing and language items assess students’ abilities to recognize good writing and to make good revisions, as well as to demonstrate their command of English language conventions. As in the College Board’s PSAT™, we accomplish this by using embedded-error passages. Our embedded-error passages begin as good works of writing, not as problem writing. We write the passages first, and determine what to modify to ask meaningful questions, second.

The embedded-error approach has several advantages. First, it creates a very natural way for students to experience the passages. Instead of asking rote questions about grammar rules or parts of speech, eMPower writing and language tests present text holistically. Second, students have experience with the embedded-error approach before they see it in the PSAT or other tests in the SAT® Suite of Assessments.

Read more in the white paper.

For more information on eMPower Assessments—or to learn about other Measured Progress products and services—contact us.

 *NGSS is a registered trademark of Achieve. Neither Achieve nor the lead states and partners that developed the Next Generation Science Standards were involved in the production of this product, and do not endorse it.

Topics: Common Core, Assessment Literacy, Interim Assessments, College and Career Readiness

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Our Press Room chooses topics of interest from activities around the company, to provide a closer look at ways to improve learning and instruction, and to help demystify assessment issues.