Nearly all states offer online assessment options for their standardized tests in addition to national organizations, such as SBAC, ACT, NAEP, and NWEA. While computer-based exams offer a variety of benefits like computer adaptive features and testing efficiency, they also necessitate that students have the technology skills to navigate an online testing environment. For example, students must:
- Know how to type quickly enough to meet time limits;
- Understand computer fundamentals to recognize scroll bars and copy and paste;
- Be able to use testing accommodations like highlighters, expandable passages, and digital notepads.
Online Assessment Woes
Without the technology skills to efficiently type, maneuver through a computer-based interface, and use business applications (e.g. Word, PowerPoint, and Excel), students will and do face immense challenges when taking online assessments. And the challenges posed by a deficit of technology skills among students were quickly realized—and continue to be as states adopt online assessment formats.
llinois students who took paper-and-pencil PARCC exams performed 56 percent better than students taking the online assessment.
In Rhode Island, officials found that 42.5 percent of students who took the PARCC ELA exam on paper scored proficient, compared with 34 percent of those who took the test by computer.
In Baltimore County, the percentage of students scoring proficient on the ELA test was 35 points lower for online test takers.
Another notable finding from the transition to online assessments is that over 70 percent of elementary school teachers feel their students were “not well prepared” with the technology skills needed to be successful when taking online assessments.
Technology Skills Antidote
In 2016, a district in Arizona conducted a study of 1,667 students total (902 third grade students and 765 fifth grade students) in ten schools with a wide range of socioeconomic attributes (seven of the schools were Title I eligible). The district utilizes a digital literacy program to address a wide range of technology skills. Participating students in the study were categorized as either frequent users or low-to-no usage users.
What were the findings? Students with consistent use of the program, and therefore with regular technology skills practice, scored 4.3 times that of infrequent users. For this district, it became quickly apparent that digital literacy-focused instruction is integral to developing students’ technology skills, especially with regard to online assessments.
This connection between technology-focused instruction and student performance in online assessments is further articulated in a joint report titled Online Assessment From Readiness to Opportunity by the Consortium of School Networking (CoSN) and the School Superintendents Association (AASA).
The report offers several recommendations to help schools and districts plan and prepare for online assessments. Recommendations range from selecting the right devices to having a plan in place for using the assessment data effectively. Near the top of the list is embedding technology into instructional practice, and to explicate further, they include a checklist of items to achieve this:
- Embed the use of technology throughout students’ school day
- Strategically address the need for all students to have Internet access at home
- Ensure all students are comfortable multitasking on a computer and moving between applications, such as word processing tools and online calculators
- Ensure elementary age students develop keyboarding and technology skills necessary for a skilled performance on online assessments
- Make assessment a natural part of the teaching and learning environment—not a special event
By giving students regular access to devices, they are able to better familiarize themselves with the functional aspects of the tools and the skills to use it, which allows them to focus on the lesson or assessment at hand rather than the computer process of it. Indeed, students need opportunities to develop and apply technology skills to build a strong foundation for academic success.
To develop technology skills, teachers can incorporate digital literacy within curriculum by:
- Introducing typing skills starting as early as Kindergarten;
- Providing students access computers throughout the learning process, whether in a 1:1 environment or through the school computer lab or library;
- Reviewing computer fundamentals with students;
- Offering practice opportunities in business applications like the Microsoft suite;
- Incorporating online assessments to build student familiarity with a computer-based testing environment.
By building their digital literacy prowess, students are taking important steps on the path to success in the classroom and beyond. By 2020, it is estimated that nearly 80 percent of jobs will require some level of technology proficiency. Moreover, online assessments may be the first-time students are asked to demonstrate their knowledge and abilities in a digital environment, but it certainly will not be the last.
For more about preparing students for online assessments, watch this webinar to learn how a district improved student performance on these tests by creating a digital literacy program.