Developing Test Specifications
The chief tool of test development is the test specification. Davidson and Lynch (2002) define test specifications as generative blueprints for test design. Test specifications for classroom use can be a simple and practical outline of your tests. However, for tests that are intended for large-scale use and distribution, the test specification is much more formal and detailed. This article will provide a rationale for the use of test specifications, describe several well-known models and discuss issues related to the development of test specifications.
An Historical Perspective
Test specifications, alternatively termed plan, guideline, form or rubric, are not a new concept. In fact the earliest mention of test specification in the educational assessment literature was by Ruch in 1929 (as cited in Gopalan & Davidson, 2000). It is widely believed that the term ‘specification’ was probably derived from the industrial concept of a ‘specification.’
Rationale for the Use of Test Specifications
Regardless what the test score is used for, good tests involve clear thinking and should be iterative, consensus-based, and specification-driven (Davidson & Lynch, 2002). Tests should be iterative in a sense where there are cycles of feedback over time as the test grows and evolves. Tests should also be consensus-based in that they should result from dialog and debate, not from a top-down dictate. It is also recommended that tests be specification driven whereby the specs are recipes for tests that foster dialog and discovery at a higher level.
Test Specification Models
Davidson and Lynch Model (2002)
According to Davidson and Lynch (2002) there is no single best format or magic formula for test specifications. In fact, there are innumerable ways to design one. Davidson and Lynch base their model on an earlier model developed by Popham (1978).
Their model has five components:
• General description
• Prompt attributes
• Response attributes
• Sample item
• Specification supplement
The general description (GD) section of a test specification is the object or focus of the assessment. It indicates the behavior or skill to be tested. Included in the GD section is usually a statement of purpose, reason or motivation for testing. Davidson and Lynch recommend a capsule summary that can be read quickly as the best type of GD.
The following is an example of a GD:
The Ss will be able to guess the meaning of certain vocabulary words from context. The texts and words will be of either a scientific, academic or general nature so as to tap into the Ss background knowledge of a variety of areas.
The second section of the Davidson and Lynch model is the Prompt Attributes (PA) section. The PA section details what will be given to the test taker. This section isn’t usually long or complicated but it includes information about the selection of an item or a test format, a detailed description of what test takers will be asked to do and the form of the actual item or task. The PA section also includes directions or instructions that the test taker will read.
The following is an example of a PA:
The student will be asked to write a letter of complaint about a common real-life situation. Each student will receive information about his/her role, the role of the addressee and a minimum of three pieces of information to include in the complaint letter.
The third section of the Davidson and Lynch test specification model is the Response Attributes (RA) section. This part of the specification details how the test taker will respond to the item or task.
Here is an example of a RA:
The test taker will select the best answer from the four alternatives (response options) presented in the test question. The test taker will then mark his/her answer on the answer sheet, filling in the blank or circling...
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