Friday, 27 April 2018

Online Testing Can Be Cruel

April can be cruel – and not just because winter has taken a really long time to let go of the northeast. State testing, that other rite of spring, consumes much of the waning months of the school year for administrators, teachers and students alike. Districts moving from paper to online assessments are finding the transition to be as much a test of network infrastructure and student familiarity with digital formats as it is of grade-level knowledge and skills.

While this problem isn’t exactly new – studies from early rollouts of online Common Core testing showed negative effects on scores in the double digits in some cases – it’s risen to the surface as more districts try to come fully online by 2020. Earlier this month, Louisiana State Superintendent John White also voiced concerns about the release of the annual “Nation’s Report Card” from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), wanting assurances that it would be an evaluation of academic rather than technology skills. NAEP’s interim strategy is to have a cohort of students continue to complete paper-and-pencil tests and online versions to measure test effects, which of course takes even more time out of teaching schedules. Maybe it’s time to include digital literacy as an equally important indicator and better-prepare students for online testing formats. The world is digital and we need to equip students for that reality.

Teach to the (online) test?
Wherever you stand on the idea of teaching to the test, it makes sense to give students the ability to gain experience with online activities that mirror state and national assessment formats. Not only does it help to remove test effects but it also builds the keyboarding and attention skills required to use online tools. Consider reading assessments. Things that may seem like minor usability concerns – such as knowing that passage content appears on the left and questions on the right, and having familiarity with formatting tools to respond to constructed response questions – can rattle and delay students who are not familiar with the design.

Enabling students to practice with activities similar to online testing formats can increase familiarity and confidence. 

Putting district networks to the test
Schools also need to test their readiness to adopt digital programs. While many districts think they are prepared for technology adoptions, there’s nothing like having hundreds or thousands of students log into the network simultaneously to find out where your weaknesses lie. There’s nowhere to hide the impact of outdated computers, insufficient bandwidth or unsupported browsers with that kind of stress testing. All of these things can be fixed but they can’t be ignored if districts truly want to give students the technology access they need to prepare for success in the digital economy.