Several times a year, we gives readers an in-depth look at the thought process that goes into the production of New Meridian test questions and performance tasks. The goal is to better understand how test items align with academic standards to produce high-quality assessments.

The Question: In a retired Research Simulation Task (RST) developed for a 5th-grade assessment, students are asked to read passages about pandas. One of the passages is about giant pandas. After reading, the students are asked a series of two-part, multiple-choice questions. One particular question asks students to identify the two main ideas in the article and then choose two quotations or key details that support those main ideas.

The Expert: Laura Beltchenko is a literacy and educational professional from Libertyville, Illinois, one of several dozen educators involved in New Meridian’s collaborative process to develop high-quality, engaging assessment items.

The Analysis: Here’s what we asked Beltchenko and the answers we received:

What is this question designed to measure?

“This two-part question is addressing multiple ELA Standards:

— Drawing explicit and inferential evidence from the text (RI 5.1)

— Determining two main ideas (RI 5.2.1)

— How those main ideas are supported by key details (RI 5.2.2)

— How the author identifies reason and evidence to support main ideas (RI 5.8.2).

“Two-part questions are asking students to understand the information and then use their skills as readers to support their understanding with evidence. In general, authors of informational text want the reader to get the main points of what they have to say about a topic. As readers it is up to us to determine not only the main ideas but the key details that describe the overall purpose of the article.”

How does this 5th-grade RST differ from what we expect of 4th-grade students?

“Students in Grade 5 are becoming more independent readers and writers. In Grade 4, students are expected to ‘refer’ to details and examples from the text. In other words, students may find specific evidence to support an answer and, in a written response, they may paraphrase or insert that information. However, by Grade 5 students are expected to ‘quote accurately’ from a text. This moves students into the true ‘close reading’ mode.

“As educators we must ensure that students understand the difference between what is explicitly stated and what they infer the author is saying. This becomes especially important when students are drawing evidence from multiple sources. Students need to be able to manipulate two or more resources and then gather evidence on the main ideas and key details. Quoting accurately helps students understand that the author must receive credit for their research. This Grade 5 standard also helps students understand the difference between personal opinion and researched work.”

Which aspects of this task do you like?

“First and foremost, let’s look at what the students are asked to read. What’s not to like about pandas! On the journey to creating authentic assessment, passage selection is extremely important. The passages in this RST present a main idea with similar concepts throughout. They also present visual media (photos), which provide students visual literacy information.

“Questions to ask when planning for assessment are: Is the topic of the article or video interesting to a specific grade level? Is the article authentic, meaning it is a published piece written to inform and found in a student magazine, periodical or text? What is the complexity of the articles and media? And, do the directions for the task tell the students exactly what is expected of them?

“What I admire about the task, as well as the academic standards themselves, is the way they can be broken down into measurable parts.”

Why is the question constructed as it is?

“The comprehension skills tested by an RST support a scaffolded method of building knowledge.

“The standards we use have a progression of learning expectations. Grade 3 students are asked to find and explain information explicitly. Grade 4 students are expected to explicitly and inferentially draw information from text. In Grade 5, the learning trajectory requires that explicit and inferred evidence be quoted accurately. Viewing the standard as a journey, each step on that path has students traveling closer to becoming independent learners. The goal is to transfer the information learned at each grade level and build upon it.”

Laura Beltchenko has been in the profession of educating students and educators for more than 35 years. Her career in public education includes experience as a classroom teacher, a reading specialist, and a teacher and coordinator of gifted education programs, as well as an Associate Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction in a suburban Chicago K-12 school district.