Preparing Students for Next-Generation Assessments

Wednesday, January 28, 2015 -- Dave Adams

Educators are currently working hard to prepare students for the rigor of next-generation assessments like the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). However, there is an additional set of challenges beyond the content rigor that students need to be prepared for—the technical aspects of online assessments. In order to effectively demonstrate content knowledge on the next-generation assessments, students will need experience with the digital environment of their online tests. This means having familiarity with the computer, tablet, or other device used to take the test; competency navigating the test; exposure to all new item types; and possession of  the basic keyboarding skills needed.

Device Familiarity

Yes, it is true that the vast majority of children today have some degree of experience with technology and is often very quick to learn new technology. However, there is a time and place for everything, and testing day is not the time to expect students to learn a new technology. Instead, students should come into their tests with a high level of comfort with the technology to be used so that they can focus on demonstrating their content knowledge.

Providing students with exposure to the appropriate technologies should be an important part of all educators’ test-preparation efforts. Both the PARCC and Smarter Balanced consortia provide detailed technical information on device, operating system, and browser compatibility to help educators use the correct tools when preparing their students.

Navigating the Tests

It is also important for students to understand and feel comfortable with the navigation of their online tests. Comfort with the format and functionality of the online test environment will help prevent students from getting lost, wasting time, and becoming frustrated. Some aspects of the online tests that students need to become familiar with include:

  • Moving from one test question to the next
  • Scrolling to see and interact with all parts of a test question
  • Scrolling text passages separately from the items associated with the passage
  • Pausing and saving during a test session
  • Restarting an in-progress test
  • Navigating test sections or units
  • Reviewing answers before completing the test 

Training tests are offered by both the PARCC and Smarter Balanced consortia as a resource to help teachers and students become familiar with navigating the online tests. 

Exposure to New Item Types

For decades, most tests—especially end-of-year state tests—have been comprised almost exclusively of multiple-choice questions. This means that students are extremely familiar with the multiple-choice format and come into testing expecting that each question will have a single correct answer and several incorrect options. The next-generation assessments, however, make use of new technology-enhanced (TE) items, and this set of expectations causes test-taking behaviors that can be counterproductive when answering such questions. For example, students accustomed to answering multiple-choice items may not read the directions carefully for each question. When these students come across a multiple response question (with three or four correct answers), they could easily identify only the first correct answer and then move on to the next question. 

Ensuring that students are familiar with the new TE item types is crucial to ensuring that testing will be an accurate measure of their content knowledge. These new item types can be categorized as follows:

Multiple Response

Students can select more than one correct answer in a multiple-choice format


Students select a response from a drop-down menu in an equation or sentence


Students click an image and move it to the correct location on the screen to arrange a sequence and create the correct overall answer

Matched Pairs

Students move answers from one area on the screen to another and create matching pairs

Hot Text

Text choices are identified for students within an item, and students select the correct text answer or answers with the cursor

Hot Spot

Using the cursor, students identify a location in an image that represents the correct answer

Fill in the Blank

Students enter an alphanumeric response in an open box in an item. An item may have more than one open box

Graphical Gap Match

Using the cursor, students drag one image to another to answer the question

Multiple Choice

Students choose the single best answer

Edmentum offers a variety of classroom solutions (including Study Island) that provide extended practice on these TE item types and help prepare students for next-generation assessments. We have also created this short webinar on 10 Item Types that Promote Critical Thinking.

Basic Keyboarding Skills

Because the next-generation assessments include critical-writing components such as constructed response, performance tasks, and fill-in-the-blank items, students need to have enough familiarity with the keyboard and number pad to successfully answer these question types. They don’t need to be expert touch typists, but they do need to be comfortable with basic keyboarding. Here are a few free resources to help introduce students to a keypad and build keyboarding skills:

ABCya! Keyboard Challenge
BBC Schools - Dance Mat Typing’s Learn to Type
Sense-lang How to Type


Spring will be here before we know it, and soon after, it will be time for end-of-year testing. By starting to prepare students early, there is plenty of time to help them gain the familiarity and confidence they need to be successful on next-generation assessments. Want some more tips on effective test-preparation practices? Check out this resource on 4 Easy Ways to Boost Test Scores