This spring, elementary and high school students nationwide will be taking Common Core-related tests, which frequently are taken on computers and require accurate and quick typing skills. Schools are beginning to drill students in posture, finger placement, and keyboard accuracy in preparation for the computer-based exams.
Caroline Porter, reporting for The Wall Street Journal, writes that administrators have worked diligently to correct technical glitches since the state benchmarks came into being in 2010, but the problem is that most young students do not know how to type. For many years, schools had discontinued typing courses, but that has turned around, especially in the face of the possible unfairness of computer-based testing for low-income students.
"In terms of typing, this is a growing pain," said Luci Willits, deputy executive director of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a group of states developing joint tests for the Common Core standards. "If it hasn't been a priority for schools, they are realizing now that it is one."
Online testing has been touted by testing providers as faster, cheaper, and incorporating today's modern skills. However, the US Education Department has found that 75% of students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch are at a disadvantage. They have an average of 170 computers in their schools, but schools where less than 35% of students are eligible for lunch aid have an average of 209 computers in their schools.
In Indianapolis, one district in which about 80% of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch has asked 15 librarians to teach keyboarding, has refurbished old computers, and is signing up for free online typing programs. Now, starting in second grade, students begin to learn how to type.
Idaho's Smarter Balanced Field Study found that 67% of students from five states shared that they find computer testing "easy" or "very easy" to use. The Smarter Balanced Field Study advocates for student practice exams so that 100% of students are comfortable with the testing interface. Oregon, according to education chief Rob Saxton, is increasing keyboard instruction, although they have been taking tests via the computer for the last 10 years. He says he wishes to assist any districts that have concerns about computer-based testing.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Co., the giant publishing and education corporation, released a version of the Mavis Beacon typing instruction program for elementary and secondary schools in 2013. Other software developers and publishers have seen a substantial rise in demand for their keyboarding software.
California's La CaÃ±ada Unified School District has created a pilot Typing Club for students in grades 3 through 8. An online app guides students through repetitive lessons with features that track speed, accuracy, and finger placement, says Sara Cardine of the Los Angeles Times. As of now, the club is an extracurricular class, but the district tech director hopes for expansion as the district grows in its technological expertise. The app was priced at $3,761 for a two-year program that accommodates 1,900 students and allows them to practice at home through their Google accounts.
Beginning in 2016, adults taking a high school equivalency test in New Jersey will be taking that test on a computer. The tests are now aligned with Common Core State Standards and Career and College Readiness Standards, both of which require that candidates be digitally literate, which can be established by the ability to take the test on a computer, writes Diane D'Amico for the Press of Atlantic City. In 2014, the state Board of Education adopted three standardized tests: the new GED, the TASC; and the HiSet. Of those, the TASC and the HiSet included a paper and pencil option.
"In order to survive today, you have to be able to use a computer," said Francis Kuhn, Atlantic County One-Stop Career Center coordinator.
Still, DOE spokesman Richard Vespucci said there is an issue at county jails and correctional facilities where computers are not readily available. Test vendors, however, have devised programs and devices which will allow the use of specially prepared laptops to offer the tests. He added that New Jersey also plans to offer multiple tests for the time being, so test centers can choose one or more tests that best suit their needs.
In Garden City, Michigan, the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP) will expect students to describe, explain, and interpret. The Michigan Department of Education states that although the test is designed to be taken on a computer, a paper and pencil-based test will also be offered this year, reports Sue Buck of Hometown Life. Alex McNeece, director of curriculum for Garden City schools, said:
"Third-grade typing is of great concern," McNeece said. "We feel much more confident with them with pencil and paper at this point."
The pilot program for the new assessment also revealed problems with assessment computers communicating with district computers, and with some schools choosing computer testing and some schools opting out. Just as the district is getting set up for the test, McNeece was told that the state will receive requests for proposals for another test next year.