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About the Assessment

Choose a City is a problem-based performance assessment for middle school students that measures their ability to use Web technology and productivity tools to reason with information and to communicate. It relies on students having some prior social studies knowledge about city life in general, but the assessment is not meant to measure their social studies achievement because the prior knowledge required is very simple and assumed to be familiar to with the typical middle school student.

The Choose a City task is about solving a problem. The premise of the problem is that a group of foreign exchange students need to choose one of two cities in which to spend the summer. They want to choose the one that offers the better recreational opportunities and public transportation and have turned to the students taking the assessment to gather relevant information from the Web, then write a culminating composition (e.g., persuasive letter or presentation) with a recommendation and specific evidence to support the recommendation. Item 1 involves information gathering and item 5 involves the writing, using an available productivity tool that you select. In between are three items that assess how well the student can formulate a research question (item 2), generate a Web search query phrase for answering the research question (item 3), and find information about one of the cities that is questionable due to exaggeration, bias, or inaccuracy (item 4). All items require constructed responses.

Depending on your students' level of proficiency using the Web, you may choose to administer either the Level 1 student form or the Level 2 form. The Level 1 form contains more specific technical directions and is meant for students with less proficiency working with on-line resources. You are advised to compare and contrast the forms before making a decision.

The assessment should take most students approximately 2 hours to complete. Those who are either having difficulty or are trying to be very thorough may want more time. It is up to you to determine whether you want to impose a time limit. If you do, we recommend 50 minutes on Item 1, 20 minutes on items 2-4, and 50 minutes on item 5.

The assessment has been designed to measure student ability in three broad outcome areas: technology use, reasoning with information, and communication. It is composed entirely of open-ended items. The different tasks measure their different components, as listed below:

Use of technology

  • navigating the Web to find relevant information
  • citing a URL
  • formulating a targeted Web search phrase
  • using clip graphics in a composition developed on the computer
  • manipulating a productivity tool interface to meet formatting requirements for a composition

Reasoning with Information

  • differntiaing between relevant and irrelevant Web-based information
  • critiquing Web-based textual information
  • formulating a research problem


  • expressing a research problem in question format
  • communicating an evidence-based conclusion based on data (argument)
  • displaying adequate organization in a written composition
  • displaying correct mechanics in a written composition

Responding Online or in Paper and Pencil

As explained on the IPAT home page (click "Home" in the links at the top) and in the directions for administering Choose a City (click "administering the assessment" in the links at the top), you can administer Choose a City online. If you are considering this, it is strongly advised that the students be proficient in computer keyboarding and manipulating multiple open windows on their computer desktops. Deficiencies in these areas will compromise the assessment's validity. For example, if a student does not understand how to open and close windows on her computer screen, her score might reflect that lack of technical competence rather than the proficiency the item is intended to measure (e.g. proficiency in finding relevant Web-based information).

Customizing Choose a City

Though Choose a City is built around students doing research about Fort Collins and Knoxville, the premise of choosing a city based on its recreational opportunities and public transportation can just as well be applied to other cities. Hence, you are free to vary the particular cities you use. If you do use other cities however, be sure to visit their Web sites to make sure that the sites have enough relevant information on them and that your students possess the required level of skill needed to navigate them. Some city Web sites are easier to navigate than others.

You are also free to change the topics that the students search on. For example, instead of recreational opportunities and public transportation, students could do research on the cities' climate, educational system, or economy. Again, visit the city sites first to see if sufficient information is provided.

If you encounter technical difficulties

Unlike EPA Phoenix, for which a student can be sent to back-up copies of specific information sources if they encounter technical difficulties accessing the originals (see the EPA Phoenix Introduction for more information), Choose a City cannot be administered unless the specific city Web sites are accessible. This is because the city Web sites are full of complex links and multiple Web pages that cannot be easily copied for back-up. If your students encounter technical difficulties accessing the Fort Collins and Knoxville Web sites, you can 1) wait either for the problem to go away or 2) send the students to other city Web sites instead (see "Customizing Choose a City" above for how to select other cities).

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