As much as I have been on the technological bandwagon of late, as we migrate towards online state testing, I see problems and problems and problems arising. This came to the fore for me during a distraught phone call I got from a really keen educator in Indiana.
Apparently, the high stakes state tests are now online. No pass, no diploma, you know the type. And online testing is wreaking havoc on some of her kids. In no particular order…
–Apparently there is a writing section to the test. This means that students who are hunt-n-peck typers are at a distinct disadvantage. Now standardized test makers always claim that the length of your composition plays little to no role on the evaluation of your composition on tests like these. However, every released sample essay of a “not passing” piece of student work is frequently characterized by its shortness of length (its insufficiency of content, if you will). Conversely, every exemplary piece of written work was frequently characterized by a sense of voluminousness (so to speak). One paragraph essays bomb, 5 paragraph essays soar and the middle ground is the middle ground. They are fence sitters.
As the teacher pointed out to me, this means that typing acumen is now playing a role in whether or not students will earn their high school diploma because if you are an 18 word per minute typer who was an academic fence sitter anyway, the chances of you finishing your work is severely reduced due to time limitations. However, if you are a 90 word-per-minute typing fence sitter, your ability to fly around the keyboard gives you more of an ability to cover more ground and thus puts you in a better position to pass the test.
But the school does not teach typing. They figure kids “ought to know”. Is that fair?
Makes me wonder if this was this ever an issue with hand-written essays? I don’t recall it being so. Sure, some kids might have penned their essays more slowly than others, but I doubt that the words-per-minute rate ever approached a quadruple the time difference.
— She also bemoaned the tech glitch at the start of the online test which cost some of her kids 20 minutes of actual test taking time. And being that the state controlled the start and stop mechanism through the software – rendering the teacher entirely disempowered to remediate the circumstance (side note: they love to disempowere the teacher, don’t they?) some kids got shorted time in a way that was never resolved.
–Beyond that, simple test taking strategies such as underlining key words in the passage, X-ing out wrong answers via process of elimination and writing in the margins have long been advocated as habits often demonstrated by strong test takers.
The online tests offered limited ability to highlight and annotate but the software was entirely unfamiliar to the students so that a technical acumen was needed in order to use a variety of the functions which would have allowed students to incorporate the strategies strong test takers frequently use when taking standardized tests. And for every moment a kid fiddled around with the “How do I annotate this or highlight that or strike through this?” question, it was a moment not being afforded to the student to actually answer the questions. On timed tests, this stuff matters.
Plus, it’s distracting to the test takers. And it’s frustrating. Souring their mood and creating aggravation can’t really be expected to actually enhance test performance, can it? And when a student’s diploma is on the line, is this really a prudent way to assess their worthiness?
It sounded to me as if the software engineers presumed all kids had a facility with navigating the online testing terrain, a facility that could really only be had by actually having had some instruction as to how a student was supposed to navigate the online testing terrain – as well as some practice.
These things literally required practice.
Now online testing is most assuredly going to play a larger part in assessment going forward. And I am sure a lot of the “wrinkles” will get ironed out. (All? No way. But we haven’t ironed out all the wrinkles in bubble testing yet – despite the billions of dollars we spend every year administering them – so it would be unfair to hold online tests up to a standard which doesn’t really exist for the current format.
The problems of online testing are, to turn a phrase, starting to “bubble up”.