Computer based testing explained.

By Greg Sampson

Based Testing
One Man’s
Field Report
I’ve been reading about the Pearson server crash and how it has affected FCAT
testing throughout the state. Naturally, parents and the public are up in arms
over the disruption to the disruption that testing presents to instruction. It
was horrible and I’ll leave it readers to judge how much umbrage they should display
against the testing companies and the phonies who hire them yet posture against
them when problems happen.
Update your
iPhone lately? Whenever technology is involved, problems happen.
The real
issues with computer-based tests (CBT) are not in the once in a decade server
crash, but the little glitches that make testing a trial for students.
CBT comes with anti-cheating provisions. One is that
students cannot attempt to do anything else while the testing software is
active, or they are kicked out of the test. That prevents them from firing up a
browser and Googling answers to the test questions. That makes sense.
Unfortunately, that means that when the computer tries to do anything outside
of testing, the student is thrown out of the test. JAVA update, anyone? That
was last year’s bugaboo. This year Windows updates are forcing themselves onto
student computers while they test. They are kicked out of the test. For some,
it happens multiple times; it depends upon the computer they are using and how
current it is. It can take two to ten minutes accomplishing a restart. This
really interrupts a student’s ability to concentrate on a reading passage and
think about answering questions.
Oh, I know, our technology department
is supposed to embargo updates during the testing window. They aren’t.
Readers must realize this is routine
with CBT. It goes on throughout the test sessions.
CBT testing is a different experience. Students will
approach a test as a survey—read and click—unless they are trained differently.
My school has outperformed her westside peers for two years in the Algebra EOC
by 10 percentage points or better. Is it because our students or our teaching
is so much better? Or because I take the time as instructional coach (in
previous years, also the test coordinator) to visit every classroom and talk to
the students about how important it is to use the work folder they are given
and work every problem out with the paper and their pencil? The ones who do
this tend to pass; the others don’t.
Students also get a worksheet to take
notes for FCAT reading. None of them use it. I wonder if this is a part of
their low performance? It does get tedious flipping back and forth between
screens. The students can use a notepad on the computer to record their ideas,
but here’s the rub: the notepad is individual to each screen. So whatever notes
a student takes while reading the passage are not accessible when the student
is reading a test question on the passage unless the student goes back to the
passage screen. All that clicking back and forth—it gets in the way of students
testing at their level of accomplished skill and understanding.
With testing windows now three and a half weeks or
longer, actually FCAT now runs into EOC testing without interruption, there is
no way a school can shut down and keep students from moving according to their
normal schedules. The architecture of schools makes it hard for schools to
isolate their testing rooms from the rest of the school. And everyone knows how
kids will stay quiet for hours because adults asked them not to talk.
Bottom line: testing rooms are often
rocked with student noise during times of transition or when too many students
are out of classrooms on hall passes. Testing students complain that they
cannot concentrate because of the noise.
By the way, I don’t want to hear from
those lucky schools that have received a laptop cart per classroom and the
bandwidth to match. Most of us aren’t that lucky. We will wait for the Second
Coming before we are similarly equipped. That’s not a barb at the District; I’m
talking reality or did you miss news reports of the Superintendent’s budget
presentation to the Board? And we’re going to digital textbooks next year in
Middle School Math. God help us. But this post is about CBT and I will stop
this tangent.
Every year, before testing begins, we do an
infrastructure test to make sure our testing locations, wireless access,
bandwidth, desktop connections, district cache servers, etc. will handle the
load. But schools sometimes find they need to make changes afterward. At my
school, we added a new location. When I was called to help troubleshoot
computer issues, I noticed how slow the student laptops were loading new pages
after students clicked next.
Many times it’s not a spectacular crash
like the Pearson problem that got into the news. It’s slow responding
equipment. On EOCs where students are allowed extra time if they need it to
finish a test, that may not be an issue. But the FCAT is strictly timed. If a
student struggles to finish on time because of balky equipment, what do we tell
them? “It sucks to be you?”
Please stay with me on this. What do
students typically do when told they are running out of time? “You have ten
minutes left to finish.”
They rush through the remaining
questions and randomly click answers.
And what about the environment? We had to test on the
stage in the gym. Unfortunately, it got hot this week. It is stifling on that
stage. Students sweat, they ask for water, they don’t want to stay. They rush
through the test. They are uncomfortable. Today I had a girl take off her
sweatshirt; her spaghetti-strapped shirt underneath violated our dress code.
But there was nothing I could say. I sympathized with her need to be
comfortable during a test session.
CBT is limited. You cannot ask students to show work or
explain their reasoning. All they can do is click an answer choice, or for
math, type numbers into a box. You want them to write an explanation of their
thinking, math, reading, Civic, history, science or otherwise? Don’t put that
on a computer test. You will not know if you are testing their knowledge,
understanding, or only their ability to touch-type on a QWERTY keyboard.

Dear readers of this blog, I hope this lengthy
post has enlightened you to some of the issues we encounter as we conduct
computer-based testing as our legislature had mandated.

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