Criterion-Referenced Checklist: The Workhorse of Evaluation

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Darryl L. Sink and Associates, Inc. (DSA) helps organizations design and develop learning and performance solutions that get results. DSA works cooperatively with organizations to:

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DSA would like to thank Dr. Barbara Martin for contributing this tip on Criterion-Referenced Checklists. Dr. Martin teaches more about this subject in DSA’s: The Criterion-Referenced Testing Workshop.

What if I told you there was an instructional design (ID) tool that was so versatile that it could be used, with minor modifications, throughout the entire ID process to create good instruction? You’d use it, right? It exists and is a criterion-referenced checklist.

Look below at the portion of the checklist for creating good multiple-choice test items. The obvious and most likely use of this checklist is to evaluate whether or not learners have developed multiple choice test items that meet the quality standards specified in the checklist. However, having a checklist allows you to accomplish many other aspects of the ID process. In the example above if you consider that “creating multiple choice test items” is the final or terminal objective, here are some ways you can adapt the checklist:

Portion of a checklist for a multiple choice test items




Does the stem include a complete thought?




Is the item free of cues?




Are all the response choices plausible?




Are the distractors arranged in a logical order?




Are all response choices of the same approximate length?




Is there only one correct answer?



There are basically two categories of skills that require checklists. These skills always have multiple components.

In order to design a checklist the instructional designer must make a list of all the components of a task, put the items in a logical order, and include an evaluation scale to measure the adequacy of the learner’s response. One of the easiest ways to make a checklist is to start with a product or performance that you have already evaluated as excellent or acceptable and work from it.

There you have the checklist – an ID workhorse – and one of the most versatile tools in the instructional designer’s repertoire! Once you start using them you’ll wonder how you ever got along without it. You will find other uses for checklists too. Plus learners appreciate the organization and structure that a checklist brings. Try writing one for your next instructional unit, then sit back and revel in the benefits.

P.S. Dr. Barbara Martin is an active DSA associate and teaches The Instructional Developer Workshop, The Course Developer Workshop, and The Criterion Referenced Testing Workshop. She has written many articles and an award winning book on the designing instruction for affective behaviors.

See you next time,