Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why Online Assessments? Here are 10 Reasons for Making the Change from Paper and Pencil-Based Exams

The CareerTech Testing Center has been creating skills standards and assessments for over thirty years, but approximately a decade ago, we decided to make the switch to online assessments. So why did we make the switch? Here are our TOP 10 Reasons.
1. Reduction in Costs - Development and delivery of online exams is more efficient and cost effective when compared to the distribution of paper and pencil-based exams, especially when distribution occurs over a large geographical area. Distribution of paper and pencil tests is no longer needed and there is no longer a need for costly scanners and the costs associated with distributing the test results (packaging and postage). Another advantage is the reduced costs associated with storing the enormous volume of data.
2. Reduces Logistical Challenges – Conducting paper and pencil exams is logistically complicated as you try and arrange test times around location and staffing issues. There are plenty of things that could wrong, most importantly test security.
3. Improves Test Security and Reduces Cheating – An article in EducationNext states, “One such study asked 3rd, 6th, 8th, and 10th grade teachers in North Carolina to report how frequently they had witnessed certain inappropriate practices. Of those polled, 35 percent said they had engaged personally in such practices or were aware of others’ unethical actions.” The article also mentions, “In California, 36 percent of teachers thought it appropriate to practice with current test forms.” According to Caveon’s website, “according to surveys in U.S. News and World Report, 80% of "high-achieving" high school students admit to cheating.”

Sadly enough, there are HUGE opportunities for cheating to occur. An online test minimizes the risks associated with cheating. It is much more difficult to lose physical control of the test without a coordinated effort among several people. Also, computers do not know the candidates and the scores cannot be skewed because of that fact.

Online testing also allows you to randomize the order of test questions within an assessment. This allows you to give “multiple forms” of a test without the arduous task of creating numerous paper and pencil versions of the same test. This is just one more example of how online tests can minimize cheating.

4. Increases the “Timing” of Tests – Tests are usually administered in group settings and online tests will allow you to vary the “timing” of tests. What this means is online testing allows for more individualized self-paced learning. If some students are achieving at a faster rate, then they can be administered a test and upon receiving a passing score, can proceed to their next educational objective.

5. Allows for the Development of Item Banks – Creating questions and organizing them into assessments -- tests, quizzes, exams, and surveys allows the test developer several options for delivery, analysis, and revision.

6. Time Savings - Since online tests are automatically scored, staff is relieved of the burdensome chore of scoring exams (also the task of receiving the tests and shipping the results). Students and instructors will also receive immediate feedback of results. There will be no “lag” time between test administration, scoring, and remediation. What a great way to enhance learning!

7. Opportunities for Multimedia Uses - Online tests can be embedded with graphics and multimedia (i.e. Adobe Flash animations and videos). This can create a more interesting, interactive, and challenging assessment for examinees. There are testing software options that provide auto-sensing and auto-sizing for flexible delivery options and some even allow for translations into different languages.

8. Analyze Feedback from Test Administrations – Online tests provide many more ways to analyze testing data. Testing software can provide each examinee with a coaching (scoring) report that provides not only the overall result, but scores can be broken down by duty area. Results should then be analyzed according to individual students (relative strengths and weaknesses), individual instructors, and for the overall program. In other words, did an instructor adequately cover the standards? Did the curriculum align to the standards? Did the program meet requirements at the local or state level?

9. Item Analysis – Online testing allows you the ability to introduce classical test theory to your assessments, i.e. item analysis. This involves the use of many statistics that can provide useful information for improving the quality and accuracy of individual multiple-choice or true/false items (questions). Some of these statistics are: item difficulty (p-value), item discrimination (Point Biserial correlation), reliability coefficient, item-total statistics, and distractor evaluation (see Instructional Assessment Resources).

10.Accessibility – Much of today’s technology allows you to meet your accessibility needs by providing the examinee with text-sizing and contrast controls. For example, delivery software can render HTML that is optimized to work with assistive technologies such as screen readers and the aforementioned text-sizing and contrast controls within assessments can aid participants with low/partial vision. There has also been improvement in the navigation of assessments via keyboards and/or alternate devices to accommodate participants who are unable to use a mouse.
Now the question you must ask yourself is…”If I’m embracing technology in the classroom, then shouldn’t I embrace technology within my assessments?”

I hope you will contact us at the CareerTech Testing Center if you have any questions about assessments of if you would like to discuss how we might assist you with your testing needs.

I would also like to mention that I read a guest post on the Teacher Reboot Camp blog by Shankar Ganesh that gave me the idea for this post. I wanted to expound upon his original ideas and provide our outlook on why you should make the change from paper and pencil-based assessments.

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