States Begin Transitioning from Scantron to Online Tests

It begins with a gnawing feeling in the back of your mind that something has gone awry. Uncertain about what it means, you might frantically begin to check your markings on the Scantron exam answer sheet to make sure they are correct. With minutes to go before time is called you figure out the problem – when you skipped question number three, you failed to leave room for it on the sheet, and now every single one of the following 30 questions are in the wrong spot. Furious erasing and filling in of ovals ensues.

That has been the experience of many students who have taken more than a few multiple-choice exams. But thanks to technology, these kinds of problems could soon be obsolete. More and more states are preparing to move to a system that would allow standardized exams to be administered online using tablets or personal computers.

As many as 19 million students could soon be retiring their #2 pencils as 25 states prepare to launch new testing systems. However, many are not expecting the transition to go smoothly. The problem appears to be a number of unanswered questions about how the new approach to testing will actually work in practice. Will there be enough computer stations for each student, and how will schools handle the possibility of cheating?

And of course, as always, there is the question of money. Has enough of it been set aside to make sure that the transition is smooth and as hiccup-free as possible?

This new computerized test comes on the heels of another significant development in public education: a national learning standard that emphasizes deeper analytical and critical thinking. Nevada is one of 45 states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards, which require a more challenging curriculum as well as a new set of standardized tests by the 2014-15 school year.

Much is being expected of the new standards, including how they will aid schools in preparing their students to enter and succeed in college. With many states adopting Common Core, moving between states in the middle of elementary, middle or high school would no longer mean adopting to a whole different academic program.

But the new Common Core tests introduce another innovation — each one will be tailored to student’s individual skill level.

The new tests are considered to be groundbreaking in that they are “computer adaptive.” Unlike a traditional paper-and-pencil test, an online test can automatically change its questions to better measure what a student knows. The more questions a student answers correctly, the harder the questions get. The more questions a student answers incorrectly, the easier the questions get.

“We haven’t tested students like this before,” Arnold said. “These (tests) are incredibly different from what our students are used to.”

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