Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Table of Specification

The purpose of a Table of Specifications is to identify the achievement domains being measured and to ensure that a fair and representative sample of questions appear on the test. Teachers cannot measure every topic or objective and cannot ask every question they might wish to ask. A Table of Specifications allows the teacher to construct a test which focuses on the key areas and weights those different areas based on their importance. A Table of Specifications provides the teacher with evidence that a test has content validity, that it covers what should be covered.
Designing a Table of Specifications 
Tables of Specification typically are designed based on the list of course objectives, the topics covered in class, the amount of time spent on those topics, textbook chapter topics, and the emphasis and space provided in the text. In some cases a great weight will be assigned to a concept that is extremely important, even if relatively little class time was spent on the topic. Three steps are involved in creating a Table of Specifications: 1) choosing the measurement goals and domain to be covered, 2) breaking the domain into key or fairly independent parts- concepts, terms, procedures, applications, and 3) constructing the table. Teachers have already made decisions (or the district has decided for them) about the broad areas that should be taught, so the choice of what broad domains a test should cover has usually already been made. A bit trickier is to outline the subject matter into smaller components, but most teachers have already had to design teaching plans, strategies, and schedules based on an outline of content. Lists of classroom objectives, district curriculum guidelines, and textbook sections, and keywords are other commonly used sources for identifying categories for Tables of Specification. When actually constructing the table, teachers may only wish to use a simple structure, as with the first example above, or they may be interested in greater detail about the types of items, the cognitive levels for items, the best mix of objectively scored items, open-ended and constructed-response items, and so on, with even more guidance than is provided in the second example.

How can the use of a Table of Specifications benefit your students, including those with special needs? 
A Table of Specifications benefits students in two ways. First, it improves the validity of teacher-made tests. Second, it can improve student learning as well.
A Table of Specifications helps to ensure that there is a match between what is taught and what is tested. Classroom assessment should be driven by classroom teaching which itself is driven by course goals and objectives. In the chain below, Tables of Specifications provide the link between teaching and testing.
Objectives  Teaching  Testing 
Tables of Specifications can help students at all ability levels learn better. By providing the table to students during instruction, students can recognize the main ideas, key skills, and the relationships among concepts more easily. The Table of Specifications can act in the same way as a concept map to analyze content areas. Teachers can even collaborate with students on the construction of the Table of Specifications- what are the main ideas and topics, what emphasis should be placed on each topic, what should be on the test? Open discussion and negotiation of these issues can encourage higher levels of understanding while also modeling good learning and study skills.
Research Articles
Chase, C.I. (1999). Contemporary assessment for educators. New York:


  • Start with curriculum guide
  • then operationalize by writing up series of objectives
  • can do a quick review of writing Behavioral Objectives, if you would like.

  • A table that shows what will be tested (and taught)
  • Theoretically, a completely detailed table of specifications would have every learning objective listed for every lesson for the whole year

    • things haven't gone quite that far here in Alberta
    • not sure there is really a point to having a document that lists every single fact students are to know
    • not only is this too inflexible -- because it wouldn't allow for any room for teacher to respond to student needs,

      it is also reductionism

      • try to reduce learning to individual skills, misses that education is more than the sum of its parts
      • part of difference between training and education I talk about in Social Context
    • currently this totally detailed approach is dominant one in England
    • some movement toward that end of the continuum here: "competency based" education is an attempt to move towards defining education in terms of a finite number of specific competencies
    • so we do not need that level of detail --> main topics for year, main concepts for a unit plan good enough
Sample Table of Specifications

Bloom's Taxonomy
Knowledge & ComprehensionApplicationAnalysis, Synthesis &EvaluationTOTALS
Topic A10%20%10%40%
Topic B15%15%30%60%
  • usually a two sided chart used in construction of tests
  • content down one side, cognitive levels across the top
  • common format in Alberta, but no rule: could have content across the top, Bloom'down the side
    • usually group Bloom'categories: in this example, knowledge, understanding, and higher mental activity
    • I prefer grouping knowledge/understanding (because straight recall usually too simple to count as real learning) and than application, then analysis, synthesis and evaluation as higher level
    • for more on Bloom'Taxonomy, please see Glossary
  • Content usually much more detailed than this, but will use two categories here to keep illustration simple
  • totals tell you at a glance what percenteage of course emphasis given to each topic and what percentage lower and higher level mental processes

Here is an example of more detail

CONTENTEconomic Growth: USAEconomic Growth: USSRCANADA: Respondind to ChangeTOTAL
PROCESSESIndustrializationMarket EconomyQuality of LifeGeographyIndustrializationCentrally Planned EconomyQuality of LifeTechnologyMixed EconomyQuality of Life

Recall Facts

Understand Concepts and Generalizations




  • Example of running content across the top, Bloom'down the side
  • notice that some curriculum'translate Bloom into subject specific taxonomy, but principle is the same

Table of Specifications Relates the Outcomes to the Content and Indicates the Relative weight of each area
  • weight is usually based on how much time devoted to teaching concept
    • but also how important it is that students remember, transfer to other contexts, courses --> some important ideas may be easy to teach but still important to include
    • also determined by type of material --> don't put a lot of weight on higher mental activity category for unit on memorizing state capitals --> don't put a lot into recall for drama class on risk taking and creative dance
    • weight -- start simple --> four topics, divide into 4, then maybe add bit more to topic you are particularly interested in, or figure students will be interested in, etc.

Exampleof weighting with rationale.
  • weight usually given in %, but you can use marks (e.g., 50) if you like
  • usually out of 100%, but might make two separate blueprints, one for 70 multiple choice, and second 30% for written response
  • Acts as a:
  • blueprint for teaching --> don't just start teaching page one on day one, or suddenly discover that its Easter and you're still on first unit --> need to figure out how much time you're going to allocate per unit, per concept within units
  • blueprint for the test
  • So that we get:
  • representative sample of course content -->not all random sample

    • this is important so that you don't just choose questions from last two weeks before exam
  • representative sample of skills, cognitive levels across content

    • not just rote memorization; or just high level stuff
    • often sabotage great course by teaching high level skills (sculpting, acting, playing solo) then giving rote memorization test (date that Mozart composed 43rd symphony) that does not reflect actual time spent

      kids learn quickly what actually &#34counts"is stuff on test, so if you have rote memorization test, don'try to get class discussion going!
  • analyze results by level and content area

    • if students getting all lower level questions but missing higher level, then you're not doing your job; if all have got answers to one unit but not another, may have to reteach that unit, etc.

Do classroom teachers actually do this?
  • No, but most of them have not had the benefit of your training.
  • Part of my job when I worked for Student Evaluation branch was to do inservice workshops at PD days and teacher conventions and on item writing committees; teachers were always surprised and pleased by this obvious concept.
  • So more teachers are doing this each year.
  • Now, most principals will want to see your year plans, and expect some evaluation planning as part of it.
  • It is becoming a standard part of unit planning

Strictly speaking there is a difference between a Table of Specifications and a Blueprint:
  • Specifications refer to a plan of what is to be taught/tested by weighting
  • blueprint is the plan of the specific test, i.e., which questions test which concept
  • So same specifications could give rise to several different blueprints


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  2. thanks, this helps me do my TOS as a guide.

  3. thanks for letting me use this as a guide.. :D

  4. Nice, a reliable source for begginers.

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