Thursday, July 17, 2014

Yesterday I tried taking the Smart Balance assessment. Wow. I thought the SAT was confusing. This is the test the higher ups are thinking about using for the standardized state testing. Apparently, the lobbyists are trying to convince lawmakers to use this but school administrators want to use an ACT derivative. Both tests are computerized. I haven't tried the ACT derivative but the computerization of this test makes me want to tear my hair out. There's a split screen, a confusing menu, you have to scroll everywhere, you had to highlight text but it wasn't clear how to do that. It was a nightmare and I have a master's degree. I can't imagine how awful it would be to ill-prepared high schoolers. And yet, this is the future of my profession.

It is both mind-boggling and depressing how much students' future depends on the machinations of our political system. There's a lot of money to be made in standardized testing. Every test is made by a private company and they pay lobbyists to get their test chosen. And in this situation, computerized tests are cheaper to proctor, right? Most of the cost is up front with a smaller amount of maintenance. But there's been a ton of research which indicates people don't read or test as well on a computer as compared to paper. So not only are we trying develop an enormous amount of ability in our students' head, we're telling them to proof it in a more difficult environment.

However, this is the situation and no amount of fussing on my part is likely to change it. So what can I change so my students have a better chance of succeeding (and I can keep my job)? I can incorporate computer skills into my teaching. Hey, it's a good chance to do cool computer projects while giving them some of the basic skills they need to do well on convoluted tests. I can teach them strategies that will help not only with tests in general but with computerized tests specifically too. And while I hate to suggest time away from my beloved content, they'll probably have take a couple of test runs. I can at least comfort myself that if I teaching good critical thinking and problem-solving skills, they'll have some clue of what to do when they encounter unfamiliar situations. I can hope.


  1. Liz, this line from your blog post caught my attention: "So not only are we trying develop an enormous amount of ability in our students' head, we're telling them to proof it in a more difficult environment."I understand that it is "cheaper" to take tests online for the schools but at what cost for the students? Like you mentioned, if we had a hard time with the online test and we have training what about those students who have little or no training on using online test? I also don't understand why there is a big shift from paper to online testing if there has been research that suggests that students do better when they take a test on paper than when they take a test on a computer.

  2. Liz, you bring up excellent points in this blog post. It is also difficult for me to conceptualize why tests are moving towards computers. To play devil's advocate, do you think that maybe we feel this way because we are products of a "20th century" education system. Maybe some policymakers do have the best interests of students in mind. They may argue that would the future of employment and 21st century skills will require students to master the sometimes frustrating interfaces of computer software, so they need to be prepared for it. I have no idea if that's the rationale. I am just imagining a possible reason for it. I like to think most policymakers have the common good in mind, but I could be over optimistic.

  3. Liz, throughout reading your post, all I could think of is "this stuff is tough to take". As you said, it's to the point of tearing out our own hair that these kinds of test-taking procedures are being implemented. What makes it worse, and thank you for writing about this, is that money and politics are playing a big role in these new policies, and it seems as though students aren't even really the focus. Do you feel that the computerized tests are actually created with the intention of benefiting students/education? I'm not sure, but thanks also for your realism in the last paragraph, showing your true concern for students no matter the odds.