Glitches Plague New State Computer Standardized Tests for Students

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Pencils down, er, hands off the keyboard and mouse. Testing is over, at least for some.

California students are giving the new Common Core standardized math and English test a trial run in anticipation of the real thing next year, and they are doing it, with varying degrees of success, using computers for the first time.

"I think the results would be horrible if the tests had been counted this year," Elizabeth Topkis, the testing coordinator at the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, told the Los Angeles Times.

In addition to dealing with an entirely different test that focuses on a range of learning skills other than rote memorization, kids are tested in areas teachers weren’t trained to prepare them for. There is more problem solving, less multiple choice and more complex questions that require reading and absorbing passages of text.

And there are no bubbles to fill in with a No. 2 pencil. They will use computers, thanks to aggressive marketing and generous contributions from the tech industry. Students will listen to audio through their earbuds, goof with charts and graphs on their computer screen and type, type, type til they’re done.

So while teachers grapple with learning and teaching Common Core principles and content, and students figure out a new way to think, everyone is coming to terms with what taking exams with computers entails.

As anyone who has taken a standardized test under the gun knows—and that is just about everyone who went to school—it really helps to maintain focus. That’s why kids take Adderall nowadays. Struggling with anything other than the test question before you will distort the results.

So how are they doing? Right now, this is what kids and teachers have learned in Los Angeles classrooms this past Spring:    

1. Many students cannot type.

2. Smart phones are not iPads or laptops. Many of the students have limited computer experience.

3. Students had trouble logging on to the system.

4. Students were prematurely logged off the system, sometimes because they were reading through long questions.

5. Some devices froze.

6. Some devices refused to save the work.

7. Inexperienced computer users, and some aggressive users, click on things they shouldn’t be clicking on, like ads.

8. Students had to move around their classrooms looking for good internet connections.

9. One student described a “glitch out” that put one of her math answers in parentheses and took her 5 minutes to clean up. 

10. Testing day at one campus was washed out by a mysterious power failure.

This is a brave new world, and simply knowing who wrote Brave New World will not necessarily net someone a higher score. More than 2.7 million California students have finished the test. Another 3.2 million are scheduled to log on by June 6.

Howard Blume at the Times said the general consensus seemed to be that the test was harder than the old one. Next year, the real one is supposed to be much longer.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

State's New Computerized Exam Tryout Plagued by Glitches (by Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times)

Ready, Set . . . California Schools Finally Start New Computer Test This Week (by Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, KPCC)

Local Students Find Online Tests “Not as Intimidating” (by Cynthia Lambert, San Luis Obispo Tribune)

Students Across Riverside Region Assess New Online Test Program (by Dayna Straehley, Riverside Press-Enterprise)

Computer Troubles Mar Standardized Testing in Multiple States (by Valerie Strauss, Washington Post)

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