Current Issues in Assessment – How Offline Testing Can Help

July 14, 2014 Stephanie Totty

As in any industry, the world of assessment sometimes gets caught up in big changes and discussions. As a provider of secure electronic testing software and analytics for embedded assessment, ExamSoft takes an interest in the wider world of testing and assessment. The concerns and events that people are talking about help us stay up-to-date on the needs of our clients.

Updates to the SAT

The SAT has long taken criticism from educators, students and admissions offices alike. The complaints people have about the SAT can tell us a lot about what educators value as useful in a test.

Some common concerns expressed have been:
• The questions are overly tricky, designed less to test students’ knowledge than to test their ability to take SAT-style questions.
• The test reinforces class barriers, with wealthier students disproportionately succeeding on it.
• The test doesn’t cover topics and issues relevant to what students need to know in college or in life.

Most of these boil down to a similar idea: a test is pointless if all it shows is how good a student is at the test itself.

To be useful to students and educators test questions must be designed to:
1) Show the knowledge a student has acquired.
2) Show a student’s ability to think analytically and comprehend new concepts.
3) Show students and educators what areas students need to focus on for improvement.

The changes the College Board is making to the SAT demonstrate a desire to serve the students and educators more directly. Instead of testing students on vocabulary words rarely used in day-to-day life, they’re focusing on terms more common. The reading comprehension section is now designed to better encourage and test students’ analytical thinking skills.

Whether the differences will make students and teachers view the test more favorably remains to be seen, but the ideas behind them are in keeping with a move towards better testing.

Technical Issues Plague the FCAT

Florida’s comprehensive assessment test for K-12 students was delayed this year due to technical issues. Problems with the testing company’s server made the test inaccessible to many areas of the state. This not only inconvenienced a large number of students and schools, but also left many wondering whether the results of the test can be trusted.

While this has caused some officials to question whether the school district can handle computer-based testing, not all computer-based testing requires the Internet. Many schools and testing companies have learned that computer-based testing is not only possible, but actually easier and more secure if it’s done offline.

When students don’t have access to the Internet, it’s easier to create a more controlled environment that minimizes cheating. Importantly, offline computer-based testing has the additional benefit of not taxing schools’ Internet servers, so complications like those faced in Florida aren’t a concern.

Assessment is a necessary part of the educational process, but what form it takes matters. Technology is helping educators and students move towards a better, more useful testing experience all the time.

 

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