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Good Question: Who Writes The Questions For MCA Tests?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
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By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In Miss Plana’s third grade class at Brimhall Elementary School, students just took their very first official state standardized reading test. It won’t be their last.

In Minnesota, hundreds of thousands of kids are taking Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests, which are part of the state’s educational standards, required by the federal No Child Left Behind legislation.

With all of these exams, who decides what questions are on the test?

“It’s a long process,” said Alice Golden, a reading assessment specialist at the Minnesota Department of Education.

“Every test question goes through a process of about two years,” she explained. “I know, most people are very surprised by that.”

Each math, reading and science question starts with a national test-writing company. Minnesota uses Pearson Assessments.

Then the reading questions go to Golden.

“We do a lot of editing of the questions,” she said.

The questions go through five different panels of teachers.

“Teachers continually give us feedback, ‘Yes, it’s appropriate for grade 10′ or ‘No, it’s not appropriate for grade 10,'” said Golden.

After the 12- to 18-month mark, the state will sneak the question onto the official MCA exam, as a field test to see what happens. Those questions’ answers won’t count on the students official results.

Golden and her department then analyze the results to make sure the questions are fair for all students.

“Have you had it happen, where boys get the question and girls don’t?” asked WCCO reporter Jason DeRusha.

“Absolutely. Even though we have spent many months getting that particular question ready, it will be thrown out of our bank and it will say ‘Reject! Do not use,'” said Golden.
The key to a good test question, according to Golden, is “how well does it match the state standard?”

The state has specific standards for each grade level in reading, math and science. That’s why Minnesota’s test is different from other states.

“We want questions to be in some instances hard but fair and in some instances easy but fair,” she said, explaining that the goal is to test the progress for the average student against the state’s standards.

Minnesota’s Department of Education employs 25 people working on writing tests and analyzing assessment data, according to Golden.

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