Three separate stories about high stakes testing, computers, servers and data.
1. Evidence indicates that some students who take high stakes tests on computers do worse
than similar students who use pencil and paper versions.
Hard numbers from across the consortium are not yet available. But the advantage for paper-and-pencil test-takers appears in some cases to be substantial, based on independent analyses conducted by one prominent PARCC state and a high-profile school district that administered the exams.
It'll take more information to determine the computer effect on test scores, but it's fairly obvious that students who aren't comfortable using computers and have to take on-screen versions of the tests are going to face obstacles which can lower their scores. If they're occasional computer users, the acts of scrolling through the test, clicking the right answer, then clicking on the next question (or doing similar actions using a touch screen) will demand concentration that will take away from their ability to give their full attention to the test, and will slow them down at the same time. Have you ever tried using your computer mouse with your "wrong" hand? I've logged thousands of hours in front of the computer, so basic tasks take no more thought from me than turning the pages of a book, but the few times I've tried to use my mouse left handed, I got confused about which direction to move it and where to click, which drew my attention away from what I was doing on the computer and made it more difficult to concentrate on the texts I was moving through. I'm sure if I had to take a challenging test on a computer with the mouse in my left hand, my concentration would be divided, my frustration level would skyrocket and my score would drop significantly.
Generally, the least computer literate students are low income kids who don't have ready access to computers and the internet at home, so if they have to take their tests on a computer, they have yet another handicap when high stakes test time rolls around.
2. At the University of Kansas, a backhoe cut into the cable
that provides its internet connection, meaning the university's Center for Educational Testing & Evaluation was off line. Kansas students who were taking the state tests were cut off. The next day, they picked up where they left off — the server saved all their answers to that point — but because the system still wasn't at full capacity, it went down again. Alaska, which also uses the University of Kansas system, decided to cancel the state testing for the year because they thought the system was too unreliable to use.
The year before, Kansas had to suspend the state exams because hackers got into the system and rendered it inoperable.
3. Because of a computer problem, 14,200 standardized tests in Texas were erased
Last Tuesday, the first day of STAAR testing, the American-Statesman first reported that at least four school districts in Central Texas — Austin, Hays Consolidated, Hutto and Harper — said that students taking the writing STAAR had received an error message after submitting completed tests online. After logging back in, the students’ multiple choice answers — and in at least in one case, the essay — had disappeared. Students who logged out temporarily for breaks also were affected.
The state later confirmed that districts statewide were experiencing similar problems and that students wouldn’t be penalized for the glitch, leaving it up to the school district to decide whether to retest affected students. Some students were retested, Morath said Wednesday.