May 8, 2003
Vol. 22, Issue 35
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Education and technology forces have converged this year to vault computer-based testing into the headlines, raising important questions about whether this new mode of assessment is more useful than traditional paper-and-pencil exams.
The local nature of high school, American-style, is underscored as teenagers flow through the 33-year-old passages here to the next class, jostling companions and belongings, chattering about college-acceptance letters and plans for a spring-break beach trip.
An informal survey of students about Oregon’s online testing system shows they find computer-based testing faster and more enjoyable than the paper-and-pencil variety, and they report feeling that they perform better on computerized assessments than on traditional tests.
Computer adaptive testing is used to test recruits to the U.S. military, for licensing nurses and computer technicians, for entrance tests to graduate school, and for a popular placement test used by community colleges—but not for academic testing in all but a handful of K-12 schools.
As test-preparation materials leap off the printed page and onto the Web, an increasing number of states and districts are turning to online test-prep programs to help raise student scores on high-stakes assessments, Advanced Placement tests, and college-entrance exams.
Indiana special education student Marvin Stuller couldn’t believe the boy reading aloud on the TV set was him. His teacher had videotaped him at the beginning of 5th grade and at the midway point. The “before” and “after” scenes of the then-12-yearold with speech difficulties were dramatic: His reading level had risen, and his voice had even lowered and deepened by the later video.
Students in Carole Givens’ U.S. history class last year took a quiz at the beginning of every period. But they didn’t line up at the pencil sharpener to get ready. Instead, they fired up their laptops.
Since the 1920s, the business of school testing has largely been a province of educational publishing. The same companies that published American textbooks also distributed such well-known assessments as the Stanford Achievement Test, the California Achievement Test, and the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills.
It didn’t take long for Pat Thornton’s 7th graders to figure out how to outsmart the computer. They even coined a term for it: “schmoozing.”
The rapid growth of school technology infrastructure has led to the increased availability and use of computers in schools. Most students now have access to computers and the Internet in their classrooms, nearly all students have access somewhere in their schools, and a majority of teachers report using computers or the Internet for instructional purposes.
South Dakota officials announced this past winter that they were making the state’s much-touted online testing program voluntary for districts, and instead requiring new paper-and-pencil tests to meet the requirements of the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001.
In a time of educational accountability and revenue shortfalls, the first question on the minds of policymakers seeking to trim already-lean school budgets often is: How does this program improve student achievement?
FOUNDATION SUPPORT: Coverage of specific topics in Education Week is supported in part by grants from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the CME Group Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the NoVo Foundation, the Noyce Foundation, the Raikes Foundation, the Wallace Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation. The newspaper retains sole editorial control over the content of the articles that are underwritten by the foundations. Additional grants in support of Editorial Projects in Education’s data journalism and video capacity come from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and the Schott Foundation for Public Education. (Updated 1/1/2017)
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