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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Testing Online?: It's Easier Than It May Seem

This spring, many schools in Virginia were given the option of having their students take some state achievement tests online. The Standards of Learning (SOL) exams are given in grades 3-12 as end-of-course tests in various content areas such as reading/literature, math, history, science, and writing. The middle schools in my division were asked to give online testing a try.

The teachers tried to keep an open mind, but most of the conversations were full of gloom and doom: Did we have adequate computer access? Could we develop a testing schedule that would allow us to test hundreds of students at each school and still stay within the testing window? What would happen if the computers froze or lost their Internet access in the middle of a testing session? Would there be enough technical-support people on site to troubleshoot problems? And those were just the logistical concerns.

What about the students? Could they adapt to reading long passages of text on a computer screen? Would the testing results be reliable when compared to those for students who used actual test booklets and Scantron sheets? What about students with special accommodations for testing like having tests read aloud?

When the actual testing days arrived, we all held our breath and jumped in. In spite of so many doubts, testing went very well. No technical nightmares materialized, and those problems that occurred were resolved very quickly. But the biggest surprise was how easily the kids adapted to this new way of testing. They scrolled through even long texts, used a split-screen feature to see both the question and the section of the passage, used the highlighter tool, and generally finished much more quickly than when they took the SOL test in a conventional way.

Even the most skeptical teachers were amazed. Our millennials seemed to be right at home in the online-testing environment. But the clincher was how quickly we got the scores back. Students who test using paper and pencil will receive their results several months after they test. Those who test on the computer will get their scores in a matter of days.

This is a huge advantage for high school kids who need a passing score to graduate. Students who did not pass are about to receive remediation and test again. And the online scores for our division are as good as, if not better than, those of tests from previous years. We still have to compare them to the scores from schools that did not test on computers, but those scores have not been released yet!

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Cecilia  Jackson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
My seventeen year old son was submitting his essays late until his wonderful teacher came up with the idea of e-mailing the assigments. Problem solved, of course he is also being grade on computer literacy. So far so good. He attends June Jordan for Equity High School in San Francisco, his teachers are very creative trying to motivate him and his classmates to continue on higher education after high schcool. I love the stories in your magazine especially, hot issues like segregation in public schools. Which, I totally disagree, it promotes division among students and young adults. We want a strong educational system that educates and enpowers our youth regardless of race, color, religion, creed, national origin, ethnicity etc. To be part of this great nation and lead us to world peace.
Pat Harder's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Your son was lucky to have a teacher who is willing to use everyday technologies to help his/her students be successful. Every year in my seventh grade classes, I have quite a few students who do their writing assignments, but then leave them at home. Since having the writing piece is the "ticket" to participating in the writing group's feedback session, the child misses out on a great opportunity to revise. I make a deal with these kids (with their parents' support if possible) that if they email their assignment to me on time (after saving a copy on the home computer just in case) I will give them full completion credit. In addition I will give a few extra points if the hard copy comes in too--just to give them practice turning things in. This has worked very well. I think the reason is that he is already at the computer writing and it isn't a big step to just send it to me--email is probably already open anyway. For many kids with organizational issues printing it out, remembering to get it out of the printer, putting it into the backpack, and then remembering where he put it, is a road with too many potential detours.
Rhonda Browning's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Now the next step would be individualized computer based remediation based directly on the test scores and tasked analyzed so that the students would study only what they needed to know. The remediation should branch based on answers giving more of the same type of material for the ones who needed more help and going on for those who were ready. I hope you all survived the accommodation issue. A pair of head phones and some read aloud software solves the problem. Later you can look at standardized testing accommodations for kids who need touchscreen, adapted keyboards, or single switch access. (Ask your self contained special ed teachers if you don't know about this technology.) The other accommodation, extended time, might be harder if the test was set up to do only one way, but there should be something in the menu to adjust that since it is a very common accommodation. Next would be approved writing accommodations and those for the visually impaired. Work with your experienced special ed. people and they can provide guidance. I would think kids would respond very well to testing on-line, especially if they can do it as split screen. They love computers. Computers hold their attention. It is adults that have trouble reading long passages onscreen, and if any of the kids did, a provision for printing out the passage could be made.
Rhonda Browning's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Maybe all your kids have computers at home, but a lot of kids don't. How do you compensate for this? Going to the public library is often not a good option because the characterisitcally hold users to very short periods of computer use. I think the one-on-one computer movement needs to spread and kids who need them should be able to take inexpensive models home. They are more likely to remember to bring them in if they have a paper stored on the drive if they don't have internet at home. These kids should have a special pass to go to the lab to send their work when they get to school.
Doug Wood's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
We have been doing a form of online testing for a couple of years now. We use Scantron's Performance system. We faced all of the questions in the article and cannot say we have answered them as well as that school district. But the second year was better than the first. Now that we have overcome the technical problems, we need to get better at using the information. The testing allows us to "drill-down" to a course of remediation for individuals or groups. We need to get better at doing that work. We do like the immediate return of scores and the kids do too. While not all students have performed optimally on the computer, there is some evidence that many students engage more fully in the test. (Maybe because it is harder to create smiley faces on their non-existent bubble sheets.)
Christine Costa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
I ran into some complications when I took the GRE's using the computerized system used by testing centers. One of the annoyances I encountered was that I was not able to "cross out" choices using process of elimination on the computer screen- I had to write them down on my scrap paper and then cross them out. This took me longer than it would have if I had paper in front of me. It may have been a problem because I grew up taking all standardized tests on paper, and was therefore not used to the new process. I do believe that some of my students are so tuned in to their computer screens that they would be happy to test online. But, I worry that they would run into a problem if they made a choice and then wanted to go back to change their answer, but did not know how to navigate the system. I think that problems can be avoided by providing students with ample practice using the online systems to take practice tests, as well as making sure that the systems and servers are capable of running the testing without freezing.

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