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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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