educational measurement, cognitive load theory, item writing, classroom assessment


This study explores a new item-writing framework for improving the validity of math assessment items. The authors transfer insights from Cognitive Load Theory (CLT), traditionally used in instructional design, to educational measurement. Fifteen, multiple-choice math assessment items were modified using research-based strategies for reducing extraneous cognitive load. An experimental design with 222 middle-school students tested the effects of the reduced cognitive load items on student performance and anxiety. Significant findings confirm the main research hypothesis that reducing the cognitive load of math assessment items improves student performance. Three load-reducing item modifications are identified as particularly effective for reducing item difficulty: signalling important information, aesthetic item organization, and removing extraneous content. Load reduction was not shown to impact student anxiety. Implications for classroom assessment and future research are discussed.



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