School Improvement in Maryland
Government-Assessment

Guidelines for Writing Brief Constructed Response Items

Sample Brief Constructed Response Items

Core Learning Goal Indicator 1.1.1: The student will analyze historic documents to determine the basic principles of United States government and apply them to real-world situations.

In reference to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, it has been said that 1776 gave us liberty, but 1787 gave us order.

  • Discuss the extent to which you agree with the above statement.
  • Include details and examples to support your answer.

Comments: The item contains several problems. First, the phrasing of the first bullet seems to force students to agree with the stimulus. The task is not specific enough; "discuss" should not be used and it is unclear how many points the student should make. Third, the prompt itself is confusing. The item is a poor one for scoring because the students are not required to use facts to respond to the task-what are the answer cues for this BCR? Finally, the item is assessing knowledge of historical developments and not understanding of government principles.

Core Learning Goal Indicator 1.1.3: The student will evaluate roles and policies the government has assumed regarding public issues.

  • Which liberties could be impacted by the addition of "under God" to the pledge of allegiance?
  • Explain how this is an example of government balancing the rights of individuals with the interests of the majority.
  • Include examples and details to support your answer.

Comments: The item needs a prompt to focus the students on the task. The first bullet is very confusing in that "under God" has already been added to the pledge of allegiance, so the writer should have used the past tense. The word "liberties" also needs some focusing, perhaps by mentioning the 'Bill of Rights.' The second bullet is problematic because the antecedent of "this" is unclear and two principles of government are introduced without any context. The item should also prompt students to give multiple examples to support their answers. Finally, the item is too complicated to be completed in six minutes; this BCR should be revised as an ECR.

Core Learning Goal Indicator 1.1.4: The student will explain roles and analyze strategies individuals or groups may use to initiate change in governmental policy and institutions.

A third party recently has been formed, and the planks in its platform are:

  1. Restrict the power of the federal government.
  2. Eliminate unnecessary pollution regulations.
  3. Reduce gradually social security benefits.
  • Explain several ways the party might nationally publicize these three planks of its platform.
  • Include details and examples to support your answer.

Comments: In the above BCR, students do not need to know the party platform in order to describe a publicity campaign. The re-written version below requires students to understand the platform issues in order to identify supporters and opponents.

REVISION:

A third party recently has been formed, and the planks in its platform are:

  1. Restrict the power of the federal government.
  2. Eliminate unnecessary pollution regulations.
  3. Reduce gradually social security benefits.
  • Explain which special interest groups might support this party, and which groups might oppose it?
  • Evaluate how third parties appeal to the public.
  • Include details and examples to support your answer.

Core Learning Goal Indicator 1.2.2: The student will analyze legislation designed to protect the rights of individuals and groups and to promote equity in American society.

Explain whether the company that placed this classified ad is following federal laws regarding employment practices. Use examples from the ad to support your answer.

Comments: The stimulus and the item is limited; there is insufficient "meat" in the item to prompt responses at all levels of the scoring rubric. Essentially, this item can be answered "yes" or "no." Even by providing examples from the ad, the item does not have enough substance to elicit "powerful application." This stimulus may have worked better with a selected-response item. A BCR addressing this concept should provide a more complex stimulus. That this item failing to generate responses at all levels of the rubric points out the need to have the rubric in mind when writing BCR items. Notice also that the item was written in the paragraph-format that is no longer used for BCRs.

Core Learning Goal Indicator 1.2.2: The student will analyze legislation designed to protect the rights of individuals and groups and to promote equity in American society.

Directions: Read the quotations from Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

    "The object of the [Fourteenth] Amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but, in the nature of things, it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political, equality, or a commingling [mixing] of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either." Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896)
    "To separate [children in grade and high schools] from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.... We conclude that in the files of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place."
    Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)
  • Explain how the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka helped to move the nation closer to achieving the ideal "equal justice under law."
  • Use details and examples from Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board to support your answer.

Comments: This item did not elicit the level of responses that we were looking for. The range of responses was narrowed by including the quotations from the Court's decisions. The term "equal justice under law" also limited the scope of answers. The students were not cued to apply higher-level thinking; students' responses indicated that they restricted their answers to the quotations rather than other issues related to the cases.

Core Learning Goal Indicator 1.2.4: The student will evaluate the principle of due process.

In the case of Gitlow v. New York the Supreme Court decided that freedom of speech was a basic right that no state government could deny to any person.
From: United States Government: Democracy in Action, 1988 ed., Page 179

  • How did this decision protect the citizens' right to due process of law?
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of this decision.
  • Include examples and details to support your answer.

Comments: The stimulus summarizes the Gitlow decision as a freedom of speech case and then asks students to explain how the decision protected the right of due process and to evaluate the effectiveness of the court's decision. However, since Gitlow v. New York is not a part of the assessment limits for CLG 1.2.1 or 1.2.4, students are not expected to know the case. The tasks must be applied to a Supreme Court case within the assessment limits or the stimulus must fully summarize the Gitlow case, but such a summary would make the stimulus too lengthy for a BCR. The item is confusing because it asks about due process when the stimulus only mentions free speech. Finally, the second bullet is really assessing historical knowledge and not principles of government.

Core Learning Goal Indicator 3.1.1: The student will evaluate demographic factors related to political participation, public policy and government policies.

Directions: Use the graphs below to answer Number 21.

Using the Population Pyramid graphs, identify one national policy that might be affected by changes in population size or changes in distribution related to age group or gender over the next 50 years. Use specific information and examples to support your answer.

Comments: This item elicited excellent responses. Many students attained the top score point on the rubric. However, the complexity of the graphic and the two-part nature of the stem required more than 5 minutes to respond. Notice also that the item was written in the paragraph-format that is no longer used for BCRs.

Core Learning Goal Indicator 4.1.1: The student will evaluate how governments affect the answers to the basic economic questions of what to produce, how to produce, and for whom to produce.

  • What are the characteristics of a mixed economy?
  • What kinds of economic choices do individuals make in our economic system?
  • Include examples and details to support your answer.

Comments: The first bullet is the knowledge component of the BCR but is not specific enough about how many characteristics students should provide in their answers. The second bullet really is not directly relevant to the first and it is asking a knowledge question as well, not a higher-level cognitive one; the highest score this BCR would allow for is a 2 out of 4 on the scoring rubric. Finally, it seems that while the second bullet is attempting to elicit the three basic economic questions, answers of "difficult decisions" and "easy decisions" seem correct. This item could be re-written to:

REVISION:

  • Describe the three basic economic questions economic systems must answer.
  • Explain how such decisions are made in a mixed economy.
  • Include examples and details to support your answer.

Core Learning Goal Indicator 4.1.3: The student will examine regulatory agencies and their social, economic, and political impact on the country, a region, or on/within a state.

The Food and Drug Administration was formed to ensure that all foods and drugs available to the public were safe.

  • What are three violations that this regulatory agency might prosecute?
  • Include details and examples to support your answer.

Comments: Students are only asked to list three food/drug violations in the above item. Using the Social Studies Rubric, their responses would be no higher than Level 2. The re-written item below requires that students understand the role of the agency, evaluate its impact on business and consumers, and demonstrate application with supporting details and examples (Level 4). There is also a sensitivity issue with the use of the word "drugs."

REVISION:

The Food and Drug Administration was formed to ensure that all foods and drugs available to the public were safe.

  • What impact would its regulations have on a business developing a new food product or medicine?
  • How would such regulation affect consumers?
  • Include details and examples to support your answer.

Core Learning Goal Indicator 4.1.4: The student will evaluate the effectiveness of current monetary and fiscal policy on promoting full employment, price stability, and economic performance.

  • What is the difference between fiscal and monetary policy?
  • Which one would be more effective in bringing the economy out of a recession?
  • Include examples and details to support your answer.

Comments: The first bullet is not asking a specific enough question. The question needs to be more focused and to ask for specifics. The second bullet requires a one-word answer. This question only asks for knowledge and not for understanding of government principles; it can only receive a score of "2" on the grading rubric. The way to improve this item is by including a stimulus with examples of fiscal and monetary policies. The bullets should then ask students to respond to and give knowledge about the stimulus. Finally, most students would not be able to explain the difference between fiscal and monetary policy.

Assessment