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2006Research Conference | June 15–16

This conference highlighted the work of invited speakers, independent researchers who have received grant funds from the Institute of Education Sciences, and trainees supported through predoctoral training grants and postdoctoral fellowships. The presentations are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Education or the Institute of Education Sciences.
Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill
400 New Jersey Avenue, N.W.
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The Impact of Using Diagnostic Questions on Teachers' Assessment Practices

Dylan Wiliam, Educational Testing Service
Caroline Wylie, Educational Testing Service

Abstract: The Diagnostic Items in Mathematics and Science (DIMS) project is focused on helping teachers make real-time adjustments to instruction to direct student learning. The project has created a bank of multiple-choice questions where both correct and incorrect responses are interpretable. A correct answer is interpretable when there is a strong warrant of student understanding of a particular concept. An incorrect answer is interpretable when it provides specific insight into students' thinking that led to the incorrect response. Teachers use individual diagnostic questions to gather immediate information from all students in a class, without having to collect and grade papers, so that the evidence of student thinking can be used to make real-time instructional adjustments to meet the specific learning needs of students.

Pilot data from 50 teachers indicate that the teachers are able to use the questions to both inform immediate instructional steps, and to provide rich discussion opportunities. From an analysis of teachers' comments a continuum of usage is emerging, from basic to sophisticated use of the diagnostic questions. The basic use was characterized by no acknowledgement that the evidence from the diagnostic question had an influence on the real-time instructional decisions and no mention even that evidence was generated. A more sophisticated use of the questions was characterized by use of the evidence generated from the diagnostic questions to influence real-time decision making such as guiding differentiated small group work, or whole class instruction, or providing a focus for an immediate whole class discussion.