Item Response Theory: what it is and how it helps in student assessment

6 minutes to read

Item Response Theory (IRT) is the methodology adopted for the correction of the National High School Examination (ENEM) and the attribution of grades. It allows to identify if the students’ successes are by chance or reflect their knowledge.

It is important to know how it works not only to offer better preparation for ENEM, but also to assess and monitor the development of students throughout their training.

So, better understand what Item Response Theory is, how it works, how it differs from Classical Test Theory (TCT), how it helps to assess student skills and what are its benefits.

What you will find in this article:

What is Item Response Theory and how does it work?

The IRT is a correction methodology that considers three characteristics of the questions (which are the items) – the ability to show whether students have the necessary knowledge to answer them, the degree of difficulty and the possibility that they might get it right by chance.

Considering these aspects, the correction observes the students’ response pattern to determine their degree of proficiency. This is because Item Response Theory assumes that the greater the domain of a subject, the greater the likelihood that the items will be correct about it.

Therefore, in addition to getting the questions right, there needs to be consistency in the correct answers according to the level of difficulty of each one. When the student hits a reasonable number of items considered easy or medium and misses many of the difficult ones, for example, it is likely that he really masters the subjects covered at the lowest levels.

However, if the student hits more medium and difficult questions than easy ones, there is a good chance that he / she “kicked” the answers. So, students who fall into the first case have higher scores than those in the second case even if the number of correct answers is higher.

In other words, the number of correct answers is not prioritized when assigning a grade. It is possible for a student to score more questions than another and to score less if the scores are not consistent according to the Item Response Theory.

What are your main differences in relation to TCT?

Unlike the Item Response Theory, the Classic Test Theory is based on the sum of the number of correct answers, to which weights can be assigned to differentiate the value of each one.

Thus, TCT observes the set of questions, assuming that getting a larger number right indicates that students have more control over the evaluated topics. It is a simple method that can be applied easily.

In the TRI, the correct answers do not have the same value for everyone and the questions answered by a larger number of students are worth more. Regarding its application, it is a more difficult method to apply because it implies a more complex correction.

For example, if a student who does not demonstrate mastery of the easy level correctly answers difficult questions, they are not reset, but are worth less than in the case of a student who got the same items and several others classified in the lower levels.

How does it help in assessing skills?

Since the aspects evaluated by the Item Response Theory are not limited to mistakes and successes, it is possible to make a more complete diagnosis of students’ skills.

In tests that follow this model in corrections, students’ analysis and reflection skills are prioritized, making the memorization of content less space.

In addition, it is possible to make a comparative analysis of the performance of all students in the school to define strategies to improve the quality of teaching in areas where they do not obtain the expected results.

What are its main benefits?

To understand how it helps students, check out some of the main benefits of Item Response Theory below.

Enables the elaboration of different tests

Among the advantages of TRI, we can highlight the possibility of preparing different tests with the same level of difficulty. This is extremely positive for schools that promote personalization of teaching or intend to do so.

In this context, it is possible to adapt school tests to this teaching approach. Thus, teachers are able to evaluate students respecting their learning styles and following their development rhythms.

Allows you to accurately assess students

In addition, the IRT allows you to determine with precision whether students really understood certain subjects, differentiating the successes by chance. Thus, the grades reflect their real skills.

As a result, it becomes easier to identify students’ specific difficulties and possible gaps in teaching. This allows the teacher to adjust his pedagogical practices to make the teaching-learning process more effective, helping his students to achieve the expected results.

Helps students prepare for ENEM

Another advantage that we can mention is the fact that it helps students in preparing for ENEM. Solving questions that follow the same exam model allows them to become familiar with the format and better understand how they will be assessed.

Thus, students have a clear and comprehensive view of the skills and competencies charged by the examining board, in addition to realizing their own limitations and aptitudes.

This helps both to develop the skills needed to do well at ENEM and to have more autonomy and precision to plan your studies, taking responsibility for your own learning.

In addition, students exercise logical reasoning in problem solving, assimilating the content better. For that, some school institutions, such as Eleva Educação, carry out interdisciplinary simulations with TRI correction for high school students.

As we have shown, Item Response Theory allows us to assess students’ knowledge in a deeper way, identifying how well they have assimilated the studied contents. Therefore, it is interesting to apply this method mainly to students who are in high school, after all, it helps a lot in preparing for ENEM

In the Eleva Platform, the difficulty levels of the questions are determined according to the IRT, which presents itself as a great ally for individual learning. Read our article and understand more about it!

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