The Rescue Season

Spring comes later in the city of Minneapolis, where I live, than in most other places in the American Midwest. Just three weeks ago, shelves of ice still clung to the side of Lake Nokomis. As if overnight, though, spring arrived, rewarding our patience with vibrant displays of color—dark green grass, nurtured by the moisture of snowmelt, emerging in voluminous waves, young fiddlehead ferns beginning to unfurl, lilac bushes in bloom, and red buds showing off just because.

Yep, spring is here, ushering in new life, not only with the flora but with the fauna, as well, and is sometimes referred to as “puppy and kitten season,” a time where all the cuteness abounds, but a time also where an influx of abandoned litters arrive at the the already-crowded animal shelters and rescue organizations in our communities, needing to be placed in homes, and sometimes delaying the placement of older dogs or cats into homes.

The choice many make to rescue an animal is not just one of benevolence, but of stewardship and maintenance of the overall health of our communities. Caveon is obviously not an animal rescue group (even if many of us are softies at heart). So what does this topic have to do with testing and security? A lot actually.

In testing, items often require “rescuing” too, in order to maintain the overall health of our exams, particularly if they have been overused or disclosed.

Perhaps, for instance, you recently discovered that one of your exam forms is disclosed on a braindump site. It seems that there are three options available for moving forward:

1. Leaving the disclosed items on the exam

2. Creating brand new items

3. Using Item Pool Expansion (IPE) methods, where possible, to create item equivalents, which measure the skill in the exact same way as the original items.

The first option is likely to introduce validity issues with your exam scores, if it hasn’t already. It is not a recommended course of action for obvious reasons. While the second option is sound, it may require more time and money than currently available. The third option, if executed appropriately and carefully, is a possible solution for rescuing your items, with the benefit being that the items would not need field tested and thus the replacement can occur expeditiously.

But what does “appropriately and carefully” look like? You’ve probably seen one method, perhaps without giving much thought to it, within your own programs. The now-ubuiquitous practice of randomizing answer options is a great example of a method for creating item equivalents, since one candidate sees the answer options presented in one order, and another candidate sees them presented in a different order. Same exam item, literally a different “look,” utilized to make cheating more difficult.

An example of another approprate method can be found in the table below.

Method Item Item Equivalent Security Benefit
Replace Irrelevant Text Mary has two marbles and Julio has 4 marbles. How many marbles do they have altogether?

  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7


Francis has two buttons and Rose has 4 buttons. How many buttons do they have altogether?

  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7


A test taker with pre-knowledge of the first may not recognize the second making the pre-knowledge less helpful.


If you’re interested in learning about other methods for creating item equivalents or about our Item Pool Expansion services, feel free to contact us.  Securing your exams is our top priority.

Tara Williams

Chief Editor, Caveon Test Security

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