Ineffective assessments, part VI: More digital access needed

 Click here to read all of the articles in our Ineffective Assessments series.

All facets of education are being impacted by the rapid evolution of technology and assessments are not immune. Not only should educators be able to tap into digital resources for assessment preparation, but students should be able to take assessments using the technology that makes them most comfortable. In other words, we need to ditch the Scantron forms and No. 2 pencils and give our kids access to the right technology to make them the most comfortable with the tests they are taking and to streamline the process for scorers. I do think that there is value to the handwritten word, but I also know that this generation of K-12 students will not be handing in business reports or notes scribbled with pencil on college-ruled paper. Our kids should be typing early and using the wide array of technology at their fingertips for the learning process. Assessments should reflect that shift, too.

To those outside the educational community, the idea that students should be able to take tests through computers and other pieces of technology that make them comfortable is a no-brainer. Within the educational community, there is always some fret when it comes to anything related to technology, or change. For decades, classroom assessments have always been done in quiet classrooms with individual test packets and students filling in bubbles on scan sheets with sharpened pencils. In recent years, there have been added sections for free thought that exists outside of multiple choice responses, but the tests are virtually the same boring layout that they were when many of us took our standardized tests as K-12 students.

Changing the format of how these tests are delivered is a scary proposition for many lawmakers and administrators and certainly, one that does not come without a hefty price tag. When you add in the consortium (albeit a small one) of educators who are leery when it comes to any technology takeovers in classrooms, it isn’t difficult to see why there is so much hand-wringing when it comes to updating the way that assessments are delivered. I would challenge our educational community, from classroom teachers to those sitting on national education committees, to move beyond these fears though and find a financial way to make the technology of assessments possible.

There are a few schools of thought when it comes to what kids should be learning in our K-12 schools, particularly our public ones. Some believe all activities should be focused on getting students ready for the real world and should point to career-readiness programs. Why waste time in the classroom on lofty ideas or flighty benchmarks that have no adaptation to real life, and the ultimate goal of all Americans: a better economy and way of life. Other believe that there should be at least some inclusion of intellectual pursuits just for knowledge’s sake. Not everything learning in a K-12 classroom needs a direct relationship with something in the real world that will benefit our students monetarily down the road. Some learning is simply important to developing better humans who pass along that cultural knowledge to the next generations.

I’m not an anti-intellectualist by any means, but I do believe that where technology is concerned, educators should fully support the first school of thought. It is our job to ensure students have adequate access to and mastery of the technology that will be part of their everyday lives as adults. Wherever possible, technology should be incorporated into our lesson plans and used in our classrooms because it will make a difference in how well-versed this generation of students will be across subject dividing lines.

Consider the rapidly advancing technology of just the past few years. A Pew Research report found that 56 percent of Americans in 2013 owned smartphones – up from just 35 percent the year before. The rapid integration of smartphone culture into the Western world took only a few years, and with the dawn of smartwatches and augmented reality devices, it seems that two years from now, our technology norms will be completely changed once again.  Think ahead to the year 2027, when this year’s Kindergartners are crossing the stage to receive their high school diplomas. What will the technology look like then? Will we, as educators, have done everything within our power to get them career ready to use it?

Integrating higher levels of technology in assessments, whether the state-mandated versions or even just in-classroom ones, will have two positive results. The first is that they will reinforce students’ use of technology by asking them to implement it to take the actual tests. The second is that assessments will make more sense in the grand scheme of classroom learning, that is already much more interactive than the traditional test-taking process that is still used in standardized assessments. Students who take tests on computers or tablets will be more comfortable with the material at hand, and it will feel like more of an integrated process. To remain a world leader when it comes to the fast-pace of technology, we as educators need to insist that technology is part of not only the teaching process but also of assessment policy too.


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