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In this era of accountability, student understanding is ultimately measured by tests. In this chapter, we explore the use of tests to determine what students know and don't know. We discuss the schools that are beating the odds by providing students with test format practice throughout the year and teaching students about tests as a genre (similar to biographies or science fiction). We also provide guidelines for creating a variety of constructed-response test items, including multiple choice, short answer, dichotomous choices, and essays.
We recognize the anxiety that tests can provoke in students. This anxiety is heightened for those who feel unprepared, unskilled, or psychologically uneasy. We have both witnessed our share of students who have become emotionally distraught and even physically ill at the sight of a test. Empathy for our students should be balanced with hard questions about our role in their apprehension. If tests are really intended to check for understanding, we need our students to perform at their optimal level. What factors are contributing to their mental state? Have we adequately prepared them for the content being tested? Have we taught them to be “test-wise”? Can we recognize the difference in student performance results when either factor is problematic?