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Item Analysis: Coordinate Algebra Unit Three (Linear and Exponential Functions)
Valerie A. Brown

ITEM ANALYSIS

Item Analysis: Coordinate Algebra Unit Three (Linear and Exponential Functions)
Effective assessment is an important part of being a professional educator. The primary
purpose of assessment is to promote and document student learning (Stiggins, 2012). In order to
use assessment to effectively inform instruction and thus promote learning, one must confirm the
quality of the assessment relative to its ability to provide both reliable and valid information
concerning students mastery of targeted learning objectives, as well as consider characteristics
of the learners themselves. Item analysis is one tool educators employ to accomplish this task.
From a Classical Test Theory perspective, this involves the examination of three main
parameters: item difficulty, item discrimination, and distractor function (Samuelsen, 2015). This
paper will discuss the item analysis of a county mandated Coordinate Algebra unit test on linear
and exponential functions along with its corresponding table of specifications, each considered
mindful of the class composition.
Table of Specifications
As item analysis is a process designed to evaluate the intentional worth - in this case the
inferential value relative to the degree of students concept mastery - of individual test items, and
refine them with the purpose of elevating assessment performance, it is helpful to first consider
the scope and distribution of these individual elements collectively. A table of specifications is a
convenient format that allows educators to quickly and clearly determine the alignment of
assessment items with unit learning objectives at various taxonomy levels in order to ensure an
adequate sample of each (Stiggins, 2012). As can be seen in Table 1, this test has a relatively
even distribution of assessment items addressing all learning objectives at one or more levels of
cognitive demand. Of the seven specified standards, four are addressed by two items and three
by one item. Additionally, a total of three items address both the lowest and highest levels of

ITEM ANALYSIS

cognitive demand, while five items target the mid-range level. Specifically, items eleven,
thirteen, and seventeen address depth of knowledge (D.O.K.) level 1, items sixteen, eighteen, and
nineteen address D.O.K. level 3, and the rest of the items address D.O.K. level 2. It should be
noted that this table represents only selected response assessment items; ten other items
consisting of short answer and constructed response were included in the unit assessment that
further sample some of these areas (Hall County School District, 2015).
Since assessments provide information about specific learners, it is also appropriate to
consider some class demographics. This assessment was administered to an honors level class
consisting entirely of ninth grade students almost evenly distributed by gender with twelve girls
and thirteen boys. By the authors observation, the students are primarily Caucasian with only
two students of Hispanic descent, and there is some evidence of economic disparity (e.g. brand
name clothing and accessories), however, this too seems pretty evenly distributed across the
spectrum with one or two students representative of either extreme.
Item Analysis
Combining information gleaned from the table of specifications with the calculated item
analysis parameters in Table 2 provides deeper insight into the assessments functioning.
Item Difficulty
Effectively gauging distinct levels of student learning necessitates the inclusion of items
that vary according to the level of difficulty which for the purposes of this paper is defined as the
percentage of students answering correctly (Guidelines for Post Exam Review [Guidelines],
2007). Item difficulty (p) values for this assessment ranged from 0.52 to 1 with items sixteen,
eighteen, and nineteen returning the three lowest values. This is supported by the table
specifications in which those three problems were designated as level three D.O.K. and so would

ITEM ANALYSIS

be expected to be the most difficult problems. Similarly, items eleven, thirteen, and seventeen
were designated as level one D.O.K., and exhibit the three highest p values with the exception of
item twelve. D.O.K. level two items were fairly evenly distribute across the connecting range
with items fourteen and twenty presenting as slightly easier than the level three items, and items
fifteen and twenty-one marginally more difficul than the level one items. According to
Guidelines (2007) and Understanding Item Analysis Reports (2005), optimum levels of
difficulty in order to maximize discrimination range from about 0.63 to about 0.74 for a fourresponse selected response assessment. By this criteria only one of the eleven items clearly
qualifies, however, if one considers acceptable p values as ranging from 0.30 to 0.90 for a
criterion-referenced assessment in accordance with DCOM guidelines, all but two items qualify
(Samuelsen, 2015).
Item Discrimination
Difficulty level also pertains to the discriminatory ability of an item. Discriminatory
ability refers to the ability to differentiate between those students who exhibit greater
understanding of the content as evidenced by higher assessment score, and those with less
complete understanding evidenced by lower scores (Understanding Item Analysis Reports
[Understanding], 2005). Discrimination values (d) are calculated as the difference between the
probability of high-scoring examinees answering an item correctly and the probability of lowscoring examinees answering an item incorrectly (Samuelsen, 2015). An item that is alternately
too hard such that nearly all students either guess or miss it, or too easy such that nearly all
students get it right, will have a low discrimination value (d) (Understanding, 2005). Ideal d
values should be approximately 0.25 to 0.5 (Samuelsen, 2015). From Table 2 approximately
half of the items fall within this range, and most of the other half fall between 0 and 0.25. This is

ITEM ANALYSIS

significant as one expects generally lower d values for assessments measuring a wide range of
content; this assessment in its entirety addressed ten different standards (Understanding, 2005).
Alternatively, these low d values could suggest vague phrasing of the item and therefore warrant
further investigation (Understanding, 2005). Of particular concern is item 20 as a negative d
value should, in most cases, be eliminated as it suggests either a mis-keyed answer or, at
minimum, unlikely inferential validity concerning student learning (Guidelines, 2007;
Understanding, 2005).
Considered together, item difficulty and item discrimination can be compared with the
DCOM Suggested Guidelines for Reviewing and Eliminating Question Items to assess item
suitability (Samuelsen, 2015). Item eleven had a difficulty of 1.00, and therefore, a
discrimination value of 0.00. According to the DCOM guidelines, this item as well as item
twenty-one with difficulty 0.84 and discrimination 0.00 border on problematic items that should
be reviewed and refined before future inclusion on assessments (Samuelsen, 2015).
Additionally, item eighteen warrants review as it had very low discriminatory power although
56% of students answered correctly, and item twenty should be eliminated in its present form
because of suspect accuracy of learning measurement, despite nearly 70% of students answering
correctly (Guidelines, 2007). The remaining items all fall within acceptable limits for both
discrimination and difficulty although item twelve had low difficulty and item nineteen had
higher than ideal discrimination.
Distractor Frequency
Another important component of item analysis is distractor frequency. Distractor
frequency refers to the number of students choosing particular incorrect answers. In Table 2
those distractor responses identified as tapping into specific misconceptions are indicated by

ITEM ANALYSIS

asterisks (*) superscripted to the right of the number of responses. Misconceptions listed by
item number are as follows:
Item eleven Answers A, B, and C all tap into the misconception that x or y intercepts
equate to a solution of both equations. As no students answered incorrectly no misconceptions
were indicated by this item.
Item twelve Answer C taps the misconception that curved lines are not functions. Only
Item thirteen Answer D taps into a basic misunderstanding about functions notation.
Two students answered with this incorrect response confusing which value substitutes in for a
given variable.
Item fourteen Answers C and D tap into misconceptions about inputs (domains) and
outputs (ranges). These answers were both chosen by 5 student who alternately flipped inputs
and outputs, misinterpreting what quantity each referred to in the word problem. This is a
common problem for students.
Item fifteen All students who missed this problem incorrectly answered C indicating A
and D were ineffective distractors. As this item was a continuation off the same equation as item
fourteen, it is possible that most students guessed, but were aided by context clues in the item
that allowed them to narrow the choices to only the correct response or choice C.
Item sixteen Nearly half the class missed this item with answers A and D chosen as the
most common incorrect responses, each drawing five students, and two students choosing answer
B. These choices indicate the same misunderstanding as item fourteen about inputs and outputs
of functions, and along with the high number of incorrect responses to item fourteen suggest the
need to revisit this topic in future instruction.

ITEM ANALYSIS

Item seventeen All three students who answered incorrectly chose answer choice A
which indicated that they misunderstood constant versus variable rates of change. As is item
fifteen, the other two distractors were ineffective in diagnosing other misconceptions.
Item eighteen Answers B and C were chosen by five and six students respectively, and
tap into essentially the same misconception as item sixteen, accurate function evaluation for
given inputs to match a specified sequence of outputs.
Items nineteen and twenty Distractor choices for each of these items functioned by
drawing nearly the same number of incorrect responses each although they didnt target specific
misconceptions thus suggesting that students generally just didnt know how to solve the
problems.
Item twenty-one Four students missed this item with one each choosing B and D, and
two choosing C. Of concern though was the greater propensity of the high-scoring students to
incorrectly answer this item relative to the low-scoring students. Consequently, although 84% of
students answered correctly, this item may need to be revised.
Conclusions
In the course of conducting this item analysis much more specific information was
discerned than is evident from standard calculations such as measures of the central tendency of
grades. For instance, items that are too easy may bolster student confidence but offer little in
terms of describing disparate levels of learning, those that are answered correctly by more lowscoring students than high-scoring students signify significant issues and should be revised
before inclusion in future assessments, and misconceptions are sometimes illuminated by
particular distractor functioning which can be especially helpful to inform subsequent teaching.

ITEM ANALYSIS

While item analysis doesnt lend itself equally well to all assessment types and one must
remain mindful of the error inherent in any assessment, its future utility regarding selected
response assessments has been confirmed in the humble opinion of this author who, in
consideration of time constraints, will make it periodic if not routine practice in order to craft
quality assessments and inform teaching.

ITEM ANALYSIS

9
References

Guidelines for post exam review. (2007, November 7). [PDF]. Retrieved from from
Hall County School District. (2015). Coordinate algebra unit 3A: Linear and exponential
functions. Gainesville, GA: Hall County Schools
Kentucky Department of Education. (2007). Support materials for core content for assessment.
/cca_dok_support_808_mathematics.pdf
Samuelsen, K. (2015). Item analysis and differential item function [PowerPoint slides].
Stiggins, R. J. (2012). An introduction to student-involved assessment for learning (6th ed.).
Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall.
https://www.washington.edu/oea/services/scanning_scoring/scoring/item_analysis.html

ITEM ANALYSIS

10
Tables

Table 1
Test Specifications for Coordinate Algebra Unit Three: Linear and Exponential Functions
Standards
MGSE9-12.A.REI.11

D.O.K. 1
1(11)

D.O.K. 2

D.O.K. 3

Total
1

Using graphs, tables, or successive

approximations, recognize the solution to
f(x)=g(x)
MGSE912.F.IF.1

1(12)

1(15)

Understand that a function assigns to each

element of the domain exactly one element of
the range. If f is a function, x is the input
(domain) and f(x) is the output (range).
MGSE912.F.IF.2

1(13)

Use function notation, evaluate functions for

domain inputs, and interpret statements that
use function notation in terms of a context.
MGSE9-12.F.IF.5

1(14)

1(16)

Relate the domain of a function to its graph

and the quantitative relationship it describes.
MGSE912.F.IF.6
Calculate and interpret the average rate of

1(17)

ITEM ANALYSIS

11

change of a function over a specified interval.

Estimate the rate of change from a graph.
MGSE912.F.BF.1

1(21)

1(18)

1(20)

1(19)

Write a function that describes a relationship

between two quantities.
MGSE912.F.BF.2
Write arithmetic and geometric sequences
both recursively and explicitly, and use them
to model situations. Connect arithmetic
sequences to linear functions and geometric
sequences to exponential functions.
Note: D.O.K refers to Webbs Depth of Knowledge scale. Levels increase in cognitive demand
from 1 to 3.

ITEM ANALYSIS

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Table 2
Item Difficulty, Discrimination and Distractor Frequency
Responder
Q11 Q12
a
1
1
b
1
0
c
1
1
d
1
1
e
1
0
f
1
1
g
1
1
h
1
1
i
1
1
j
1
1
k
1
1
l
1
1
m
1
1
n
1
1
o
1
1
p
1
1
q
1
1
r
1
1
s
1
1
t
1
1
u
1
1
v
1
1
w
1
1
x
1
1
y
1
1
p
1.00 0.92
d
0.00 0.17
Distractor frequency
A
0*
92
B
0*
4
*
C
0
4*
D
100
0
Key
D
A

Q13 Q14 Q15 Q16

0
0
0
0
0
1
0
1
1
0
1
0
1
0
1
0
1
0
1
1
1
1
1
0
1
0
1
0
1
0
1
0
1
1
1
0
1
1
0
1
1
1
0
0
0
1
1
1
1
0
1
0
1
0
1
1
1
1
0
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
0
1
0
1
1
1
0
1
1
1
0
1
0
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
0.88 0.60 0.80 0.52
0.25 0.25 0.25 0.42
4
0
88
8*
C

60
0
20*
20*
A

0
80
20*
0
B

20*
8
52
20*
C

Q17 Q18
0
0
0
1
1
1
1
1
1
0
1
0
1
0
1
0
1
1
1
1
1
0
0
1
1
1
1
0
1
0
1
0
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
0
1
1
1
0
1
1
1
1
1
1
0.88 0.56
0.25 0.08
12*
0
88
0
C

0
20*
24*
56
D

Q19
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
1
0
0
1
1
0
0
1
1
0
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
0.56
0.67
12
16
16
56
D

Q20 Q21
1
1
1
1
0
1
0
1
1
1
1
0
1
1
1
1
0
1
1
0
1
1
0
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
0
0
1
1
1
0
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
0
0
1
1
1
0.68 0.84
-0.08 0.00
12
68
8
12
B

84
4
8
4
A

Note: Q = Question. 0 = Incorrect. 1 = Correct. p = Difficulty, and ranges from 0 (difficult) to 1

(easy). d = Discrimination, and ranges from -1 (more low performers (red) correct than high
performers (green)) to 1 (more high performers correct than low performers).
* Distractors, frequency expressed as a percentage.