Computerized State Tests – Is Paper Better?

Photo credit - Guilford School Watch Blog

Photo credit - Guilford School Watch Blog

Last year, we were given an option. Go with the traditional paper/pencil Math MCA’s (Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments) or go with the computerized MCA’s from Pearson Access . (grades 3-8) Seeing the writing on the wall, and knowing that eventually all MCA’s will be electronic, we decided to opt in for the computer based testing.

My Rant:
While it was good to test our infrastructure and of our testing processes, I am amazed at how much TIME we (staff and students) have invested in this  getting this 1 computerized test to successfully work in our schools.

  • We are very fortunate that we have several labs in our buildings, and  while our district computer:student ratio is better than most (3:1) , We basically will not be doing any technology/Internet-based classroom projects during the month of April and half of May due to testing. The Paper Test is generally done in 2 days and does not require any other resources than a pencil and/or paper.
  • The hand rostering of students is extremely tedious. In each school database, we are given access to all the students, you then need to hand roster them to their appropriate teachers or groups.  Student missing or sick that day?  You will have to move them from 1 roster, and re-roster them into another makeup session.  While, I understand the process is similar to what you have to do “the paper way” we went from 3, 4, 5 people (in each building) being able to put the paper in the right piles to 1 person with the computer access and know how – to be able to do this.  Making what use to take several people a few hours, to one person  that can take several days.  Oh, and you HOPE there is not a tech support call anywhere in between.  I guess I find this frustrating because I am very aware of other testing vendors that allow schools to somewhat automate the process of  rostering students by using exports from their student information system (Hint – Not What Everyone Assumes)
  • Yesterday when I asked one of my Proctors – “How did everything go?”  She said, “Good, we fished at 11:00”   They started at 8:15. These are 5th Graders. I guess I am very surprised that the electronic testing systems in this day and age, don’t have the sophistication to figure out where these kiddo’s academically are – without having to have have them sit 2-3hours through mind numbing assessments.  (paper or computerized)
  • The time to get our results.  When is that?  Since this is computerized – why cant we get them within a day, week, or month?  However – more than likely – the computerized results will come the same day as those paper-based results.

With every rant, I have to also mention some improvements.  It is nice that there is some interaction with these tests.  The sample test had the typical multiple choice questions as well as the ability to drag lines on a graph or drop numbers in appropriate areas. I also can’t deny that it is nice that students can opt to have the tests read to them. (we have headsets and sound on all of our computers)  I am also happy with the tech support we receive when there are issues or even during the prepping.

I guess, my main complaint is the process we have to go through to provide computerized MCA’s.  Because of the exuberant amounts of time we spend prepping and testing and the fact that we do not get access to our results any faster – Is this system any better than paper?

  1. Hi Jen,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences here. (I hope you post this to the MEMO Ning as well.) I forwarded to our assessment and curriculum people, feeling like we dodged a bullet.

    Does the state ever put a technology person on the work groups who devise these tests? To make them affordable for schools to administer, at some point the tests need to run on netbooks or tablets and on a wireless network. What a waste of taxpayer dollars to use $1000 machines with 100mg Ethernet connections for weeks on end just to take a test.


  2. Hi Doug, I will take your advise and cross-post this on the Memo Ning. You most certainly did dodge a bullet this time. We are a small school district with 1800 kids. I can even imagine what it is like for a larger district like Mankato, Rochester, or Minneapolis to successfully implement this test. And, what happens when they bring electronic MCA Reading tests into the mix? We will be nothing less than a testing factory… I realize that some of the work that MDE is doing (MCCC) may help with Rostering, but to this date I have not heard if that will be the case.

  3. Thanks for the post Jen! Funny you mention Mankato in your last response. The network of schools I work with has some very small schools who also use the computerized version while D77 Mankato (at least at the elementary levels) are still using the paper version.

  4. Hi Mary,
    This year schools had a choice to choose the paper based Math MCA’s or go with the computerized Math MCA’s. I am not so sure that next year we will have that option. If we received our results sooner (than June-August) I think there would be more value in the computer based tests. However, I do not believe that is the case…at this point.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *