Give Schools and Students The Choice to Take Paper & Pencil State Tests

Exams are almost over.

At least for this semester. And in my school the largest obstacles and tallest hurdles dealt with technological issues.

Knock out the Ethernet connections to a couple of buildings, have a bad connection in another building, and then some scattered wireless availability in a couple of other buildings, then a school can experience an immediate logistical nightmare.

And that’s before students even begin taking the actual tests.

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We have a state superintendent bent on making technology the pathway to “personalized” instruction and a Lt. Gov. bragging about how we as a state have connected every classroom in the state to the world wide web. And while that might be a tremendous benefit in handling data and sharing knowledge and applications, for testing it may not be that beneficial.

Ironic that both the state super and the Lt. Gov. are proponents of the school performance grading system that places so much emphasis on student achievement as measured by standardized tests and both the state super and Lt. Gov champion school choice.

More ironic is that the dependence on technology during many of the tests that measure the very “achievement” used to formulate school performance grades for schools (that embolden parents to make “choices” in the schools for their children to attend), might actually be adversely affecting the scores of the very exams students take.

Many studies show that most students do better when allowed to kinetically use paper and pencil on their tests and not have to interface with a computer online. Studies show that scores are higher, thinking is more critical, and confidence is heightened. But as a state, we are pushing these online versions.

Do students primarily take AP tests online? Do students primarily take IB tests online? Do students primarily take the SAT online? Do students primarily take the ACT online?

No, they do not. But those tests tend to have a fee associated with them that covers the cost of having them graded, especially the need to have critical human eyes grading critical writing samples measured by rubrics and not an algorithm.

And it is the monetary angle that is driving all of this online testing. Less paper, more streamlined, automatic delivery, and….

If we really want students to perform optimally on tests that are used to measure outlandish things like school performance grades should they not be allowed to take those tests in situations that benefit them the most?

Students and parents should be able to actually practice some sort of choice with how they can take a test (since “choice” is such a big buzzword with people like Mark Johnson). If a student wants to take tests on paper and pencil, then let that option be there. If a student wants to take it online, then let that option be there.

But, a student will not have to change rooms or have delays if the technology is not working for them if they take it on pencil and paper. And if money is a problem, then that might involve really examining what is important to invest in.

Besides, allowing for students to opt into taking state exams on pencil and paper is the very definition of letting them use “choice” to make their academics “personalized.”

And we have mentioned that we already take too many standardized tests.

Many times.

One thought on “Give Schools and Students The Choice to Take Paper & Pencil State Tests

  1. Good points, but we do need to consider having full-time state standardized testing liaisons in every school so that its easier to make these options a reality. For curriculum coaches, assistant principals, and other school personnel that organize state standardized testing on top of their regular duties (counting out test books, answer sheets, etc.) can be very time consuming and while it may seem like a clerical task, because of the confidential nature of the test booklets it can’t be turned over to just anyone to handle. Ask anyone who has facilitated state standardized testing, especially in a large school, and they will tell you that it can take hours to organize these materials. From the perspective of a school testing liaison who is trying to juggle organizing state standardized testing on top of observations, bus routes, discipline referrals, supervising the cafeteria, etc. the online approach can be very appealing from an efficiency/time management perspective. But the bottom line is, what is best for each student? This is why each school needs to have a full-time state standardized testing liaison.

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