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Op-Ed Testing Better On Paper or Computer?

February 25, 2019

Computer Based Testing is Next Logical Step

Technology is being more and more implemented into our daily life. With such fast development, it’s no surprise that use of technology has started working its way into areas like our classrooms. Here at WSHS,  students use Chromebooks, Epson projectors, and other pieces of technology in their daily learning. Many districts across the country and the world are taking steps to make their classrooms and schools more technologically advanced and equipped for 21st Century learning. The next logical step would be for standardized testing to be moved online as well.

This year, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is moving the MCAS test online. This is not the first trial run with technology for standardized testing in our state. In spring of 2015, middle schoolers at WSMS were part of a trial run of the PARCC exam, a standardized test which is entirely online.

There are a number of advantages for moving standardized testing online. For one, it is easier on school staff and administration because there is less storage and less cost involved than with a paper test. With a paper standardized test, booklets must be sorted, organized, labeled, and stored by authorized personnel only so that testing information is not seen by the wrong eyes before the test day. It is a time-consuming, tedious process that can be avoided with online testing. Not only will the amount of work required be less, but the level of confidentiality will be easier to maintain. With standardized testing comes extreme measures to keep students from cheating. One of the reasons why sorting the books takes so long is because only certain members of a school’s administration are allowed to see the potential contents of the book. Online testing automatically provides that level of confidentiality.

Online testing also provides the students with the ability to perform better on a test by taking length off the time of a test. For AP and PSAT testing, there are numerous blanks to fill out and boxes that must be checked to be sure that they match up correctly. All of this writing, check, and rechecking adds up and can tack up to more than an hour onto a test. During most standardized tests, students aren’t allowed to eat or drink, besides water, and are kept in the same room besides trips to the bathroom and brief 10-15 minutes breaks one or twice throughout the three to four hour testing block. This could impact a students’ results because it will be harder to focus on the test the longer they are under these circumstances. Handwriting takes a lot more time than typing does.

Taking a test on a computer also allows for a quicker turnover period between when students take the exams and when they receive their results. Currently in Massachusetts, it takes months for students in grades 3-10 to hear back with their results because all of their booklets must be individually read and scored by hired proctors. If a computer test is given, the tests can be scored with computer software as well. Some proponents of paper testing use the argument that computer corrections could cause an error, but they also seem to conveniently forget that human error is very real.

Using technology evens the score for students in other ways as well. Typing is much easier on the hands than writing, and by typing responses, it will take the guesswork out of students whose handwriting may not always be the neatest or most readable. Some teens naturally write neater and have more legible penmanship than others. Is it fair that they get an advantage on the test?

By taking exams with technology, students can take a test in a manner that they are familiar with.  Using the technology in their work every day prepares them even more so for a test. In our classrooms here at WSHS, much of our work is done on the chromebooks for convenience and speed. Many teachers prefer the computers to handwritten assignments. As far as districts that don’t have as much access to technology go, just because they don’t have as good of technology doesn’t mean that they have zero access to computers or other necessary testing technology that their students know how to use.

Online testing can allow for a more enriched testing curriculum as well. Having a testing software on a computer can allow for more enhanced images and diagrams, and even include hyperlinks to videos, pictures, or sound bites that can be included in the question. A more enriched test curriculum like this could also provide a somewhat more entertaining level for the students who are forced to partake in these exams, and this increased level of focus and awareness could mean a better score on a test.

One of the biggest arguments for students, parents, and teachers who are against the idea of moving testing online is the fact that technology can mess up. Computers can glitch, technology can malfunction, and if this were to happen in the middle of a test, it would cause an unfair circumstance for the student because all of their hard work up to that point could be erased. Or it could delay testing further. However, accidents can happen with paper too. Booklets can be mislabeled or missing pages. Students can write all of their information in the wrong area of a test booklet, or bubble in their scantron wrong, and their entire test becomes invalidated. The reality of standardized testing is the fact that there will never be a fool-proof method without some sort of flaws when it comes to testing our students.

The world is rapidly advancing in terms of its technological presence. Our education system needs to change to reflect that change even if it means upsetting some. Using technology enriches our tests and allows our students to grow more as members of society and learn more about the role they will play in their own lives. Its time to put standardized testing online.

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