While I was at the job fair, my students took a multiple-choice test. My master teacher did not appreciate it. She doesn’t know how to assess my assessments.

Your test was too hard.

No, it wasn’t.

The average percentage was failing.

No, it wasn’t.

Confused readers: Let’s do the math. There were 30 multiple-choice questions on this test, each worth two points. The maximum possible score, obviously — he said wryly — is 50 points. Think about it. She saw that most students scored between 14 and 21, and kept 30 as the denominator rather than 25.

To her credit, my master teacher had not heard about my scoring, and had applied her favored conclusion to the issue of test difficutly: Another Student Teacher Mistake.

The 50 points will later be combined with their grades from their two essay questions — 25 points each — to create a psychologically ideal 100-point test.

It was too hard.

No, it wasn’t.

Sure, the questions are hard, but on purpose. Sure, many were just barely beyond the grasp of most of our students. On purpose.

The highest score in either class on the multiple choice was a 24 correct out of 30, and that was from a pretty bright student, and exactly as planned.

Perfect scores mean that it’s possible that the test was too easy, and that, for at least one student, the test did not require thinking. Thinking, by design, is difficult. It is often frustrating. Getting students to think is my goal. Therefore, I would be remiss if I did not make all students think: especially the highest achievers.

Easy tests bore the smart students, lower the depth and breadth of preparation among the middle students and panders to the lowest achievers.

I told my master teacher, when I knew how to phrase it, that I would assess the test results, and I would make adjustments as necessary. That is, I would score the test as intended, which would appear to her as last-minute changes.

Make adjustments as necessary. I like it.

She then abruptly turned and went back to work, as if her intervention had goaded me into this decision. She gets like this frequently, and I’ve learned to deal with it. Generally, I like to delude myself into believing that I know what I’m doing.

  1. TeacherMom


    Such perfect timing as I am making a test up for my civil rights unit in Curriculum and Assessment. I am really freting about the questions. How to make them challenging for the top students without demoralizing average students. And what to do about the bottom students??!!! Help! Where do you even start with this (other than the obvious from your unit and lesson plans)? Do you curve the test if even the brightest kids don’t get A’s? I find writing T/F the hardest bec. they are often too easy and I don’t want to include give away questions.

  2. I agree that assessments shouldn’t be boring. It sounds like your saying that the first aim of your questions is that they are hard, and I’m going to disagree with that.

    If you’re going to use a multiple choice test to assess student’s understanding, I think it’s more important that the questions cover the critical outcomes of the unit, not what questions will stump the best student. Even if one hands out a study guide covering the test questions, then the test assesses how well the student studied for those hard questions, not if they know the material deemed important.

  3. TeacherMom: I’ll use True/False questions for the essential information, and matching for similar-level questions. Multiple-choice is what I save for questions I want my students to puzzle out.

    I could go on, but I’d just end up writing a post about it. Look for one this weekend.

    Mr. Bleckley: My questions are tricky only because they require careful reading, and because students have to connect to several different multiple pieces of information. That’s the kind of hard I’m talking about.

    I don’t have questions about something I mentioned once three months ago as an aside.

  4. So they get five free misses, I’m guessing? I dunno, it didn’t seem “obvious” to me.

  5. Q

    Care to give some sample questions? That certainly would help me better understand your method.

  6. It wasn’t obvious. That was supposed to be self-deprecation. I’m not that pompous.

    I’ll have a post up with sample questions.

  7. Okay, now I get it. Those are excellent questions. Sorry for my misguided criticism. I thought you were writing hard questions for the sake of hard questions, but those do test their understanding of the Bill of Rights inside, outside, and up-side-down. Thanks for the response and for posting the sample questions.

  8. Glad I could help. To paraphrase Mr. Meyer, if I always knew how to phrase what I want to say to begin with, I could do away with comments forever.

  9. I am a third year teacher, and i’ve never understood the theory that if the students do well your assessments are too easy. To me, if you do your job really well, and a majority of the kids got in the 90’s does that automatically mean the assessment was too easy?

    If you properly teach to the objectives, and your test questions are variations directly from the objectives students should do well.

    Also….30 multiple choice questions, 2 points a piece = 60 points?

  10. 30 x 2 = 60. Owing to the difficulty of the test, I automatically make it out of 50.

    The difficulty of the test isn’t in fact-recall, either. The difficulty comes from making students think about what they already know.

    Simply put, my test questions aren’t variations directly from the standards. I aim for higher levels of thinking.

  11. I see what you are saying, higher level thinking is always great, students need the base of knowledge and then the application/synthesis level of bloom’s taxonomy always helps comprehension.

    Just curious, what kind of higher level questions were you using?

  1. 1 Hard Questions Are the Best Questions « On the Tenure Track

    […] seniors, student, student teaching, teacher, test, unit, unit test I hestitated including sample questions just in case students happened upon this site, but I sucked it up and got over it. As per request, […]

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