The Anatomy of an NGSSS Social Studies Item


The Anatomy of an NGSSS Social Studies Item


The Anatomy of…an NGSSS Social Studies Item

At Progress Testing, we produce one of the only NGSSS Social Studies and Science formative assessment item banks available in Florida. We build each item to discretely match the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards. Here’s how we build a Social Studies item for Florida.


Reviewing the Standards

For each project we work on, we build a spreadsheet of all standards using documents provided by the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE), which enables us to view standards throughout all grades from a central database and search throughout grades to determine when certain topics are introduced or expanded upon.

When preparing to write for a standard, we carefully consider the scope of the standard we are covering while also considering if certain elements of the topic have been previously covered in lower grades.

Consulting Available Resources

FLDOE Test Item Specifications and resources provided on CPALMS refresh our understanding of expectations for Florida Social Studies and provide invaluable information. Additionally, these resources provide sample items that help us understand the types of items preferred by Florida educators.

Item Construction


We use all of the resources we can find to better assess the NGSSS. In addition to FLDOE and CPALMS resources, we utilize teacher lesson plans, textbooks, district pacing guides, and additional available resources to dig deeper into topics and gain a more complete view of the material being tested. We also solicit input from Florida educators.


We first determine the scope of the item we wish to write. We then develop a clear, direct stem that enables students to utilize their knowledge and skills to come to a conclusion. Next, we create a strong, unambiguous correct answer that students well versed in the material will be able to recognize as the best response to the question given.

NOTE: We construct reasonable distractors that pull from material associated with the standard being tested as well as material covered in previous standards and grades — the goal being that each potential response is able to be fully evaluated by a student, with its feasibility as a correct response determined by using skills and knowledge acquired up to that point in their Social Studies education.
We ensure that all items adhere to the principles of our in-house editorial style guide, guaranteeing that all items are properly formatted and structured, avoiding outliers (length/style/etc.) to ensure that all answer choices are considered and evaluated equally by students.

We incorporate stimuli into items whenever possible so as to engage students and hone their ability to recognize and analyze primary and secondary resources, as well as their ability to evaluate information and draw conclusions rooted in Social Studies skills.

NGSSS Social Studies Exemplar Item


Graphics Creation

As part of our effort to incorporate stimuli whenever possible, we rely on our graphics team to help us utilize existing photographs, posters, political cartoons, and other types of images to enhance our items and provide different avenues through which to test students’ knowledge and abilities.

Additionally, our graphics team is able to create for us any type of image we need or can dream up. This includes, but is certainly not limited to, maps and diagrams related to the specific NGSSS being covered or enhancements to poor-quality historical images.

Determining DOK Level

In addition to the aforementioned resources provided by the FLDOE that outline expectations for each DOK level, we also utilize Hess/Bloom’s Cognitive Rigor Matrix to determine the appropriate DOK level for each item we create. We also add Bloom’s tags to each item that correspond with the particular level and the skills involved in answering the question presented.

Review and Revision


All resources mentioned above (including FLDOE guides and our in-house editorial style guide) are utilized as each item is carefully reviewed and revised by multiple editors in the Social Studies department beyond the item’s writer.

Considering Bias and Sensitivity

We consider all issues related to bias and sensitivity as they pertain to our items to ensure that no aspect of any item is prejudicial toward any student and that all students have an equal opportunity to succeed when attempting to answer the item with which they are presented.

In compliance with the American Educational Research Association’s 2014 Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing, all passages and items undergo a bias and sensitivity review.

Consulting EDL Core Vocabulary Resources

Also utilized during the writing phase, these vocabulary resources allow us to ensure that all language used in an item is grade-level appropriate, which is essential to constructing a question that is both challenging and fair for students.

These three steps are repeated multiple times, with open and honest discussion between editors throughout the process to ensure that any item we release is of the highest possible quality.

Peer Review and Completion

Editors from outside the Social Studies department examine the item with fresh eyes, making any necessary grammatical edits, raising any concerns regarding the item, and providing suggestions for further improvement.

The Social Studies department addresses all changes, concerns, and suggestions, then reviews, approves, and completes all final edits.

Editorial Process Flowchart

For more detail about how we work, check out our full editorial process illustrated in the flowchart below.

NGSSS Social Studies Editorial Process