Following on my “what is reading” post last week, here is an idea as to how to assess reading. We were instructed to design three “test items” for a given text to test “reading”, whatever we understood that to be. So I designed one multiple choice item and two others. The multiple choice item, in the instructor’s view, did not contain the “correct” answer as one of the options. Rather, apparently, I had misunderstood the sentence in the reading text “There did not seem to be a reason other than, perhaps, (…)” to mean “There was no obvious reason”. In my view I had translated the hedging “perhaps” into the hedging “obvious” and therefore I still allowed for the possibility that there was a reason.
So, reflecting on that difference, I came up with another way of testing reading comprehension, suitable, of course, only for classroom assessment: Learners are asked to design two or three multiple choice questions with one key and two distractors; they then “pilot” these on two or three fellow students. If these are able to answer the questions correctly, there is a good chance that both students have understood the reading text; if not, they will have to negotiate the meaning of the question/answers and possibly of the original text, and hopefully learning takes place. Of course, this tests more than one learner, and more than one construct. But it provides a basis for negotiating the meaning of a text, for trying together to extract details, with learner involvement.
One of my own items was “Write a title for the text, summarising the main point (no more than 10 words).” This also tests more than one construct, since it tests reading and writing, and depending on my scoring system, it also tests grammar/spelling. Is it valid to ask such an open question? Or would it be better to provide a few titles to have the students choose from? I think it depends on the context. If we really have to separate the constructs as clearly as possible, the “closed” version would be better. However, in most contexts, especially in classroom assessment, I think my question would be appropriate since it does not ask for a great deal of writing; there are no marks given for the writing being correct; and a choice of possible titles again tests a different construct (choosing) from what I intended (extracting the main point without external clues).