Assessment Opinion

Pencil and Paper Win This Round of PARCC Testing

By Patrick Larkin — February 08, 2016 1 min read
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My school district was one of two districts in the state of Massachusetts that tested all students in grades 3-8 online. In fact, the Rennie Center wrote a detailed case study about the experiences with PARCC testing in Burlington and Revere and how other districts can best prepare for the move to online testing. Given my experience with students completing state testing online, I was not surprised at all to read Benjamin Herold’s article last week titled PARCC Scores Lower for Students Who Took Exams on Computers.

Let’s think about this from a common sense standpoint. I believe that the purpose of these tests is to assess our students in math and English Language/Arts. Unfortunately, the online assessments became a test of the ability of students to figure out new technology. While the students were testing on devices they were familiar with, the technology in the online test was cumbersome and confusing.

In fact, the student focus groups following the testing affirmed this with comments about the built-in equation editor for the middle school math and the answer box provided for the ELA prompt. This supports the broader findings that Herold reported last week indicating that the biggest discrepancies were in “English/language arts and middle and upper-grades math.”

PARCC’s Chief of Assessment Jeff Nellhaus admitted to Herold that the technology may have been a hurdle that impacted student scores:

There is some evidence that, in part, the [score] differences we're seeing may be explained by students' familiarity with the computer-delivery system."

Given the fact that these scores “counted” for so many students (and teachers in states where these scores are part of their evaluation) I can’t help wondering where we go from here. Do we wait for the company making these tests to offer us instructional resources with assessment tools that mirror the online testing environment? I am sure that is right around the corner...

In the spirit of these wonderful assessments that we have to endure, here is a multiple choice question I have regarding online testing:

How can we fix the discrepancy between online and paper/pencil testing?

A. Seamless technology - With so many schools spending big money to make sure that they have an infrastructure and devices that can handle online testing, I would like a commitment from our state leaders to give us an assessment tool that is worthy of the millions of dollars they are spending on these contracts. Our students should not have to muddle through mediocre testing tools. B. Authentic testing tools - When our students write an essay or solve a math problem in our classrooms, they have the resources they need to get the task accomplished. This should not change on state testing day. They should not have to construct a writing assignment in a space that is difficult to maneuver or struggle with an equation editor they have never seen before. C. Review the research in online testing - Herold's follow-up article last week cited seven case studies on online testing. The challenge to move assessments online is not a new one, but that certainly does not mean that there is an easy resolution here. However, we cannot be satisfied with the current state of students struggling with online testing. D. All of the Above This blog was updated with the correct spelling of Education Week Staff Writer Benjamin Herold's name.

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