It’s hard to create accessible tests that
help students show what they know.
Here’s some how-to.
Spencer J. Salend
The teaching team at Madison Middle School was concerned about students’ test scores. Although the students’ classroom performance indicated that they grasped the concepts being taught, their scores on teacher-made tests indicated quite the
opposite. Determined to understand what was happening,
the teachers asked students to anonymously share what they
thought about recent tests and why they had received the
grades they did. Students’ comments included the following:
n “The tests don’t cover many of the things we learned in
n “We spent most of our time learning about one thing,
and there was only one question on that topic.”
n “I accidentally skipped over items I could answer
because I didn’t see them.”
n “You don’t give us enough space to write our answers.”
n “The directions were confusing.”
n “The questions are like you’re trying to trick us.”
n “It was hard to remember everything because we had
two tests on the same day.”
n “Sometimes I get so nervous and frustrated I give up.”
Teachers were glad they’d asked. They carefully considered
their students’ feedback and used it to improve tests.
Students take many teacher-made tests throughout their
school years. Educators use results from these tests to deter-
mine report card grades and honors, approve students for
promotion and graduation, and monitor students’ learning
guidelines, strategies, and models for creating student-friendly
progress and the efficacy of instruction (Salend, 2009). How-
tests—including before-and-after examples from Madison
ever, as both research and experiences like those at Madison
Middle School that show how teachers revised tests so that
Middle School reveal, creating a good test is a challenge.
faulty test structures no longer hindered students from doing
Many students take poorly designed tests that negatively affect their best.
their performance and report card grades (Salend, 2011).
As a teacher and writer who focuses on assessment, I’ve
worked with educators like the teaching team at Madison
to help make tests more accurate and inclusive. I offer here
An essential aspect of creating student-friendly tests is ensuring validity—the extent to which the test measures what it