Online testing is coming — with glitches

Online testing promises to help teachers hone instruction by providing instant feedback on what students are learning and what they’re missing, notes the Hechinger Report. Online tests also should make it easier to spot patterns that suggest cheating. With backing from the Obama administration and new tests under development, a majority of students could be taking standardized math and English tests online in three years.

Delaware already has moved all state testing online.

 On a recent afternoon at Townsend Elementary School here, a little boy squinted at a computer screen and gripped his mouse. He was stuck. Half of the screen contained an article about rainforests. The other half was filled with questions, some multiple-choice, some not.

One question asked the boy to pick two animals that belonged in the rainforest from a list of pictures and written descriptions. Then he was supposed to drag the animals across the screen onto the rainforest background. Next, he had to move two correct descriptions of rainforest characteristics into boxes.

Test developers hope the next generation of online tests will be more challenging and stimulating.

In these new exams, a student might be asked to use a mouse to move the sides of a shape on screen into an isosceles triangle, highlight the main idea of a passage, or write an essay about two articles supplemented by their own online research.

But Delaware’s current test, which students take three or four times a year, doesn’t break down students’ scores on specific skills. Townsend Elementary also is testing students three times a year on a more sophisticated test that gives teachers feedback on where students are struggling. That means students spend more time taking tests.

Some early adopters are struggling with technical problems.

Wyoming abandoned online testing, after adopting it in 2010, and is back to pencil and paper. The technical problems were overwhelming. Every school was routed through a single, private network, which “collapsed under the weight of more than 80,000 public school students.” In addition, some schools didn’t have enough working computers.

On the other hand, Virginia, which invested $650 million in new technology, has rolled out online testing without major problems.