School Improvement in Maryland

Guidelines for Writing Constructed Response Items

Guidelines for the Constructed-Response Item as a Whole

  • A Constructed-Response item (CR) must be written to one specific Core Learning Goal and Indicator. A Brief Constructed-Response item (BCR) may be written to any indicator, but an Extended Constructed-Response item (ECR) must assess knowledge and understanding of Goal One indicators only.
  • Students have approximately five to seven minutes to read and respond to a BCR and 25 minutes for an ECR.
  • Maryland relies on one scoring rubric, with scores ranging from 0-4, to score both the BCRs and ECRs; CRs must be written so that they elicit a range of responses from minimal knowledge to complete understanding.
  • CR-writers must include with their item a model response (with a score of four) and answer cues (factual content one would expect students to include in order to answer the question) for each CR developed. If there are few answer cues, the CR might be better developed as a Selected-Response item (SR).
  • Design CRs so that students are challenged to think and not just to provide memorized answers.
  • Write CRs as clearly as possible; students should not be confused by what you are asking.
  • CRs should be very clear about what the students are to do. The stem should focus the students to the questions/tasks but not so narrowly that a students' response cannot be scored on all four scoring levels.
  • Do not ask questions that appear to advocate particular values or invite personal responses about students' lifestyles, values or beliefs.
  • ECRs should represent larger conceptual ideas in Goal 1.

Guidelines for the Stimulus of a Constructed-Response Item

  • Most BCRs should include a stimulus. All ECRs must have at least one stimulus. A political cartoon paired with a primary source passage are ideal stimuli for ECRs because there is enough material to elicit student responses on every score level.
  • If a stimulus is used in a CR, it must be necessary in order to answer the question; if the stimulus is not necessary, omit the stimulus.
  • Stimuli are most effective when they are used to elicit higher-level cognitive skills.
  • CRs, especially ECRs, must engage the students. Too often CR writers rely on the bulleted questions/tasks to get students writing; instead rely on prompts to stimulate students to write.

Guidelines for the Bullets of a Constructed-Response Item

  • The first bullet of a CR is usually the "knowledge component," a lower-level cognitive question/task, such as "Define...Explain Identify..."
  • The second bullet of a CR is usually the "understanding component," a higher-level cognitive question/task, such as "Explain why...." Without the understanding component, a CR is only requiring a student to recall information, which would at best score a 2 on the scoring rubric.
  • The last bullet of a CR should read "Include details and specific examples to support your answer."
  • BCRs will usually have three bullets and ECRs have four.
  • All questions/tasks must assess Government content; questions can not hold students accountable for history knowledge or skill development.
  • Do not use the verbs "discuss", "Think about", "illustrate" or "consider" (use "explain," "justify," or "describe" instead)
  • Do not use the same cognitive verb ("explain," "define," "compare," "describe") twice within a CR.
  • Be as specific as possible in what you want the students to do. For example, "Explain which special interest groups might support this party and which might oppose it."