Keeping it Simple!

Confucius once said, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”

Obviously, standardized testing was going on in ancient China as well! The recent move towards online testing is an obvious example of trying to complicate what should be a relatively simple and stress free process.

I have a brilliant idea. Let’s sharpen up our Ticonderoga #2 pencils, bring back the paper test booklets, the paper answer sheets, and restore sanity to state testing.

As we learned again today—for the second straight year—technology can fail us. Regardless of the testing vendor, technology will always be prone to disruption due to the myriad number of hardware, software, and infrastructure details associated with computer-based testing.

As I have shared before, my school could administer all of our mandated state tests in less than five days if we simply went back to paper and pencil tests. As it is, it takes us a full twenty days to schedule over 4,000 online tests to our 1,650 students using the 210 computers we have available for testing.

This disrupts teaching and learning at my school from the first of April through the second week of May. With 200 students pulled from classes morning and afternoon for multiple days, teachers are left with incomplete classes and are forced to constantly adjust their lessons to accommodate missing students.

The students at my middle school took the ACT EXPLORE paper and pencil test in August and we received complete student results in two weeks. That includes the mailing time to and from ACT. We administered the test to all eighth graders at the same time in two and a half hours.

A colleague of mine shared that their child recently took the ACT paper test and she also had her scores within two weeks.

Can someone please remind me of the advantages of online testing. Originally, we were told that computer-based assessment would result in more immediate results. We now know that was a crock. Oklahoma schools have yet to receive online test results in the two weeks REQUIRED by state law. In fact, this year we waited until late October to finally get our final test scores from the SDE.

Most students would prefer taking a paper and pencil test over an online test anyway. Research has shown that students perform better on standardized tests when they are in a familiar setting, as in a regular classroom, rather than a testing center with 100 other students. Have you ever taken a two-hour test on a 10-inch laptop while sitting on a bench? This is exactly what we ask our students to do.

Online testing may be easier for testing vendors and marginally less expensive for our SDE. However, additional costs are transferred to districts in the form of technology acquisition and personnel costs. It literally takes hundreds of man-hours from our IT department and site testing coordinators to pull computers, set up testing rooms, schedule testing sessions, and arrange for the many testing accommodations needed for our students.

The computers we use for testing are spread throughout our building and are used by teachers and students every day for teaching and learning. That is, except for the last six weeks of school when they are removed from classrooms for testing.

Many of the students I spoke with today expressed high frustration with taking tests online. The reading tests require students to scroll up and down and left to right to see the entire passage and associated questions. They shared that they are less likely to go back and check their work because of the navigation required to move back in the test. The math problems are easier to work in a paper booklet than by using the enhanced technology tools that accompany the newest tests. Students do not like having to leave their regular classroom to take tests with large numbers of students they may not know. Not one student I asked today (out of about 30) said they preferred online testing to traditional paper and pencil.

ACT, SAT, and NAEP all continue to employ paper and pencil tests. Why are we trying to complicate something that should be as simple as we can make it. If we had been using paper tests for the past two years, we would have saved money, reduced stress, and recovered many days of disrupted instruction.

Maybe this is the biggest lesson learned from today’s testing debacle. We cannot trust the testing vendors to get the technology right. When was the last time you had trouble logging into a paper test?

If it was up to me, I could simplify things greatly by merely getting the state and federal government out of the testing business. Bring back trust in educators and local autonomy of schools. We know how to assess our students because we do it everyday!

It doesn’t have to be this complicated.

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