Competency-based Assessment: Understanding Item, Stimulus, Distractor and Stem
Competency-based assessment is a crucial aspect of striving towards assessment practices that are more in alignment with changing scenarios globally. In order to move towards competency-based schooling and education system, an understanding of what competencies entail is a prerequisite.
In the context of assessment, the term ‘item’ refers to ‘every individual question’ and aims to measure a certain ‘construct’. A construct may relate to various kinds of psychological abilities such as certain type of knowledge, understanding, or the ability to perform a task. In order to obtain a fair idea of the presence or absence of a construct, it is imperative to have high-quality, error-free items.
The Development of Item Stimulus and Context
An item may begin with a relevant context/prompt followed by the question. This context or prompt is called the ‘Stimulus’.
A context or prompt that is presented before the question in an item, designed to make the item engaging and relevant to the student.
To make the stimulus engaging, information may be given in a variety of ways such as through a piece of text, a diagram, a graph, a table, a map, a chart, or a combination of these. The development of an interesting stimulus is an important part of item development. The length of stimulus is also dependent on the subject to be assessed. While it is important to have text of suitable length while assessing reading or listening comprehension at different grade levels, for subjects like Mathematics and Science, it is important to keep a tab on the length of the stimulus. In all respect, the stimulus should present factually correct data.
Good stimulus material has the following characteristics:
It is substantive and worth examining closely.
It is likely to be of interest to the target audience.
It is well written and well designed.
It is optimally challenging, not too hard or too easy.
It does not pose spurious challenges.
It is factually correct.
It offers opportunities for searching questions.
It is self-contained.
Alignment with Competency and Grade Level
The competency-based items aim to assess students’ attainment of certain competencies and do so by anchoring the item in the grade level content. Therefore, the first and foremost criteria for developing good quality items for competency-based assessment is to ensure its alignment with the mapped competency and the specific grade level.
Generic Principles for Developing Assessment Items
Some generic principles to follow while developing assessment items are as follows:
Where appropriate, providing some context for the stimulus material is important. Context may be provided through a heading or a brief introduction.
The item should test a single construct/concept.
The content of the item should be engaging and should be displayed well for the students to feel motivated to attempt it.
The item format should be in tandem with the focus of the question. While some questions render themselves more suitable as constructed-response items, others can be effectively framed as multiple choice items (MCIs).
The item should test the mapped domain/topic and must not digress from it to maintain the validity of the item.
The item should not favour the students from a particular social, cultural or linguistic group, geographical location or gender.
The graphics, if used, should be copyright free and should be of good resolution.
While reference to good assessment items is encouraged, it is important that the items are adapted to the context of the learners and are not copied from other sources. Items must not be plagiarized from other sources.
Multiple Choice Questions and Open-Constructed Items
There are two common types of items or response formats in assessment, Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) and open-constructed items. MCQs have a list of options from which the student must select the correct answer, whereas open-constructed items require the student to generate their own response. Both types of items have their own advantages and disadvantages and should be used in an appropriate context.
In conclusion, developing competency-based assessment items is a crucial aspect of the assessment process. By ensuring alignment with the mapped competency and the specific grade level, providing an engaging and factually correct stimulus, and following appropriate principles and guidelines, high-quality, error-free items can be developed to effectively assess students’ attainment of competencies.
Important Terms – item, stimulus, distractor and stem
Item: In the context of assessment, an item refers to every individual question that attempts to measure a certain construct.
Stimulus: A context or prompt that is presented before the question in an item, designed to make the item engaging and relevant to the student.
Distractor: In multiple choice questions, a distractor is an incorrect option presented alongside the correct answer, intended to distract the student from selecting the correct answer.
Stem: The stem of an item is the main question or statement that the item is attempting to measure. It is the core component of an item and is usually followed by the options or response format.