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Item Banks: 6 Ways To Improve

What is a T score

The foundation of a decent assessment program is the ability to develop and manage strong item banks. Item banks are a central repository of test questions, each stored with important metadata such as Author or Difficulty. They are designed to treat items are reusable objects, which makes it easier to publish new exam forms.

Of course, the storage of metadata is very useful as well and provides validity documentation evidence. Most importantly, a true item banking system will make the process of developing new items more efficient (lower cost) and effective (higher quality).

1. Item writers are screened for expertise

Make sure the item writers (authors) that are recruited for the program will meet minimum levels of expertise. Often this involves a lot of years of experience in the field. You also might want to make sure their demographics are sufficiently distributed, such as specialty area or geographic region.

2. Item writers are trained on best practices

Item writers must be trained on best practices in item writing, as well as any guidelines provided by the organization. A great example is this book from TIMSS. ASC has provided their guidelines for download here. This facilitates higher quality item banks.

3. Items go through review workflow to check best practices

After items are written, they should proceed through a standardized workflow and quality assurance. This is the best practice in developing any products. The field of software development uses a concept called the Kanban Board, which ASC has implemented in its item banking platform.

Review steps can include psychometrician, bias, language editing, and course content.

4. Items are all linked to blueprint/standards

All items in the item banks should be appropriately categorized. This guarantees that no items are measuring an unknown or unneeded concept. Items should be written to meet blueprints or standards.

5. Item banks piloting

Items are all written with good intent. However, we all know that some items are better than others. Items need to be given to some actual examinees so we can obtain feedback, and also obtain data for psychometric analysis.

Often, they are piloted as unscored items before eventual use as “live” scored items. But this isn’t always possible.

6. Psychometric analysis of items

After items are piloted, you need to analyze them with classical test theory and/or item response theory to evaluate their performance. I like to say there are three possible choices after this evaluation: hold, revise, and retire. Items that perform well are preserved as-is.

Those of moderate quality might be modified and re-piloted. Those that are unsalvageable are slated for early retirement.

How to accomplish all this?

This process can be extremely long, involved, and expensive. Many organizations hire in-house test development managers or psychometricians; those without that option will hire organizations such as ASC to serve as consultants.

Regardless, it is important to have a software platform in place that can effectively manage this process. Such platforms have been around since the 1980s, but many organizations still struggle by managing their item banks with Word, Powerpoint, and Email!

ASC provides an item banking platform for free, which is used by hundreds of organizations. Click below to sign up for your own account.

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Nathan Thompson, PhD

CEO at Assessment Systems
Nathan Thompson, PhD, is CEO and Co-Founder of Assessment Systems Corporation (ASC). He is a psychometrician, software developer, author, and researcher, and evangelist for AI and automation. His mission is to elevate the profession of psychometrics by using software to automate psychometric work like item review, job analysis, and Angoff studies, so we can focus on more innovative work. His core goal is to improve assessment throughout the world. Nate was originally trained as a psychometrician, with an honors degree at Luther College with a triple major of Math/Psych/Latin, and then a PhD in Psychometrics at the University of Minnesota. He then worked multiple roles in the testing industry, including item writer, test development manager, essay test marker, consulting psychometrician, software developer, project manager, and business leader. He is also cofounder and Membership Director at the International Association for Computerized Adaptive Testing (iacat.org). He's published 100+ papers and presentations, but his favorite remains https://scholarworks.umass.edu/pare/vol16/iss1/1/.

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