Part I: Why Online Assessments?
Are K-12 students ready to begin taking high stakes exams online at a nationwide level? Yes? No? Maybe? Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarted Balanced) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) will begin administering Common Core based assessments that will in most cases be replacing previously administered paper-pencil Scantron-based, state-required exams in over 40 states. This blog will begin a series of online assessment road map discussions.
First, let’s consider it from a student’s perspective. With the technology that currently exists, question types assessed online can become more challenging, motivating, and much more interactive for students. Item types such as drag and drop (that include media-rich graphics, animations, and audio) could not only engage the student in ways that paper-and-pencil-tests never could, but such items will ask students to demonstrate more critical thinking analyses and a deeper understanding of their skills and knowledge. Complex reasoning skills can be better assessed through available advanced simulation-type technology along with audio and video streaming that is currently being developed by national assessment consortiums such as PARCC and Smarter Balanced. A higher overall assessment of performance and cognitive understanding is now possible while at the same time appealing to the students 21st century needs and expectations. Former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise stated, “in just about every other facet of society, at work and at home, technology has transformed the way Americans go about their lives. Yet schools have been slow to embrace the transformative power of technology. Although computers are pervasive in schools, they tend to be used more like electronic textbooks—high-tech tools in a nineteenth-century system (2010).” Another advantage that online assessments can offer is their adaptive capabilities. Students can actually take an assessment that will adapt to their performance level accurately and efficiently.
Now, let’s discuss advantages that such a nation-wide transition could eventually have on school districts. Timely feedback on results has to be near or at the top of the list when comparing online assessments to paper-pencil assessments. Traditional paper-pencil exams can take up to 4-6 months for results. Teachers and administrators can get immediate feedback on students’ results through online assessments. I consider this to be one of the most essential advantages in the transition to online assessments. Teachers can now get the results that show their students strengths and weaknesses almost immediately and begin addressing them with their students to ensure they remain or get back on track. The administrative time and costs, collecting of the data, organizing, shipping, etc. all constitute several current issues with traditional paper-pencil exams. Such necessities that revolve around paper-pencil exams can tremendously add to districts overhead. Increased security is another factor that should be considered. The mass traditional paper-pencil assessment route usually involves more hands having access to the students’ tests. This has proven to be problematic in several cases. For instance, lost tests, disorganized assessments, and shipping issues can and have happened in many districts. To make matter worse, these issues can and have repeated themselves once they make it to the third-party graders of the assessments. Such human error can be reduced dramatically with online high stakes exams. This reduced chance of human error can lead to more equity and much more efficiency for all parties involved.