If a throng of students wearing sweat pants and wielding number two pencils can only mean one thing- standardized tests! When I think back on any "high stakes" test that I have taken (SAT, ACT, MTEL, Comp Exams) I really can't remember the actual test. If we're being honest, I can't even remember what my scores were. I can remember however fishing my way through a sea of people, feeling over tired and trying to find out what test room I was in. I can remember hoping that my growling stomach was only audible to me. I can remember rubbing my hands together because the test room was too cold, and having my knuckles white from the pressure of two hours of bubbling answers. In short, I really remember the physical discomforts. Yet, this is how we ask students to demonstrate their knowledge.
A few years back...okay many years back...I took the GRE in a computer based testing center. This was when they were first experimenting with computer based tests so I wasn't sure how taking it at a computer based testing center would impact my performance on the test, but I figured at least the chairs would be more comfortable.
The experience was a positive one, while there was a learning curve to testing on the computer, the actual set up was great. I had my own little "cubby" and headphones, it was peaceful just before the test (no throngs of test takers clambering to find their room) and yes the chair was comfortable.
Why am I even bringing all of this up? Well, as many of you know, some standardized tests are going to computer based delivery models. While I'm sure they will not have the resources to provide comfortable chairs and cubbies, it is certainly a change from how our students have been used to filling in the dreaded bubbles. My principal sent out an email just prior to our midyear exams (the equivalent of a semester final) asking if anyone was interested in experimenting with giving their midyear exam on the computer. This was just the push I needed to experiment with this delivery model. I decided if I was going to have students use computers, I was going to take advantage of the situation and really try to give them the best experience possible. So, if you are considering giving any large scale test to your kiddos via computer, here is what I used, what I learned, what worked and what didn't!
First of all I knew I wanted students to be able to take the test in my room where they would know what to expect in terms of the environment. I'm lucky in that my school has a cart of 26 Chromebooks to check out, so that solved the problem of student devices.
I set the test up on Google Forms. I did this for a few reasons that I'll get into detail on later. The actual typing in of questions was tedious, but now I have a copy saved for next year that I can easily tweak, add to, and delete from. Additionally Forms predicts the type of question you're inputting (i.e.: multiple choice or short answer) making it a relatively smooth process. I was concerned about being able to set up a "matching" section but I was easily able to do that with the "graph" option.
The real reason I wanted to use Forms though was the ability to add colorful pictures, videos, and maps to the exam. I thought this was a benefit to computer based testing that could really help my students. For example, they had a question analyzing the Gettysburg Address. Rather than simply put the text of the speech on the test, I was able to embed a video of the speech being performed. Students brought their headphones and were able to listen as many times as they liked. When a question about a specific general came up, I was able to put a picture of him, thereby helping out my students who our more visual. I was also able to use colorful charts, graphs, and maps, that would previously have been black and white. I just think overall this was a really great benefit and I took advantage of it throughout the test.
I was also able to set it up so that each page only had one or two questions, which allowed students to focus and not be overwhelmed by the whole page.
The day of the exam I had a Chromebook on each student's desk when they came in. To get the test on the computer for the students, I used Google's URL shortener to create a small link to the form and wrote it on the board. I had students put this into their browser and once everyone was pulled up, we were ready to start. If you use Google Classroom with your students you could easily just push the code out to them.
In addition to the pictures and videos, it was also helpful for me to be able to use some extensions to further help my ELL and SPED students. I had my SPED and ELL students using the Read&Write extention during the exam. This allowed them to translate words as needed. This saved them time as normally they would be using a dictionary. It also allowed them to have the test read to them if they chose. I have many students that benefit from having the test read to them. However, this requires them to go to a separate room with a different proctor to read. It also means that they have to move at a consistent pace with the other students being read to. By using this extension students simply highlighted the text they wanted read, put their headphones on, and had it read to them.
Overall I thought there were a lot of benefits to having the test this way and student feedback was positive.
I'm sure some of you may be concerned about cheating. In theory a savvy student could open a separate browser during the exam and look up the questions. I'l be honest that I wasn't that concerned. For one thing, I could see all the screens. Frankly though, I'm not obsessed with constantly catching my students in the act of cheating. I explained to them that they were selected to pilot computer based midyears and they were to follow the honor code. I'm not naive and I do know that for some students that means nothing. I also know that for many it means something. I believe if you set the bar high most rise above, and the few that don't have a way of revealing themselves. I digress, if cheating concerns you, there is software that your school can purchase that would only allow students to be in the exam window and not open any other browsers. I think if this was a school wide delivery model it may be worth looking into, but not for my individual class.
The thing that I was more concerned with was the fact that if a student accidentally closed out of the browser they would loose their entire exam. I made a BIG point to students about this and begged them to be VERY careful when clicking buttons. Thankfully we only had one problem, and the student was only six questions in. I did have a few students loose part of their open responses and I give them so much credit for retyping them. I have since learned of a solution to this. There is an extension called Lazarus that will "resurrect" form answers if you accidentally close out. Clever name, no? So problem solved for future tests! I had the great fortune to attend a workshop by Jenn Judkins of www.teachingforward.net and she introduced me to this game changer. If you don't already you should check her out on twitter @TeachingForward, she is Google Certified and has some great tips!
As far as grading was concerned I used an app called Flubaroo, which again I think a lot of you already know about. This app (almost) instantly corrects tests given in Google Forms. It does the "multiple choice" part atomically and I really liked that for hand corrected questions (i.e.: Essays, Open Response) it allows you to decide if you are going to correct each students answers all at once, or each question all at once. The only drawback is you have to wait for all the tests to be complete before you can correct, so this could be a problem for makeups. You could always make a copy of the test and grade their's separately.
Flubaroo also puts all the data into a nice spreadsheet for you, so there's that!
Okay, so how did the students do? Did they like it?
I will say I got really positive feedback in terms of the test. Most said they wrote more than they would have on the open responses since they were typing. Their only caveat was that they wished they had a mouse, so maybe in the future a computer lab would be the better testing option.
As far as performance, I gave two sections of my honors classes and one section of my CP classes the test on the computer. I gave one honors section and one CP section the test on paper. In terms of scores there was not really much difference between the paper and computer tests at the honors level, though I will say the written portion was much better from the computer testers. However for my college prep kids there was a notable difference. The mean score for my computer based class was an 84 and the mean score for my paper based class was a 70. Now this could not mean anything, we all know each class is different and that there are a myriad of factors that contribute to students' performance. I just thought it was worth noting.
I'd like to close by saying I'm not a fan of tests. I see the anxiety they put students through. I use lots of alternative assessments in my class. I dislike multiple choice tests, I think you learn more about students through writing. Sometimes however, you have to give a test, and sometimes it has multiple choice. If you do have to give a test, and especially for a large scale test like a final or midyear, I think using the computer added a lot of benefit for my kids. I will definitely continue to explore methods of delivery for them.
Although they didn't each have their own cubbies, I like to think I made an otherwise uncomfortable experience a little better for them. Now if only I could get them comfy chairs....