Common Core: Computerized Testing Comes to M-A

Miranda Simes

M-A’s forthcoming adoption of the Common Core will terminate Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) ‘bubble’ testing and introduce a new system of computer-based testing . The computerized test will incorporate multiple choice and student-produced answers with the aim of enhancing students' critical thinking abilities.

Specifically, the move to computerized-testing in English-Language Arts and Math will be the first major endeavor in applying current technology of that sort to those subjects.

 The Common Core English-Language Arts and Math tests are a combination of multiple choice (both subjects), short-answer questions (English exclusively) along with a variety of answering methods unique to the problem. The multiple choice questions on these new computerized tests will be more involved than those on STAR and even College Board tests as possible multiple-choice answers will range from 4 to 7 choices.

Yet the most disputed of the changes following M-A's adoption of the Common Core is that concerning automated scoring of those tests, a widely-debated facet of the new system.

Mo Zhang of the Educational Testing Service (ETS), a test-creating organization used by College Board and other associations, champions the 100% computer-based grading (as opposed to people grading student-produced responses) of the Common Core standardized tests here.

Zhang highlights the efficiency of automated scoring, along with its ability to apply a uniform and fair evaluation of submissions and instant feedback. He states that a computer can make the same judgments as humans in “ideas, organization, conventions, sentence fluency, word choice, and voice” with objectivity. Additionally, systems are working to deepen their scoring abilities with research across grade levels, in foreign languages, and in detecting false authorship.

He argues that while human scoring exceeds automated scoring in its capabilities regarding previous context and understanding of a writer's style, it can be biased, can vary from scorer to scorer, and the training process is time-consuming.

Yet many argue that the understanding and evaluation of writing involve intellectual capacities that transcend the functional ones of a machine, no matter how sophisticated it may be. Zhang affirms that a computer cannot determine the “more cognitively demanding” parts of student-produced responses on the English test, namely “audience awareness, argumentation, critical thinking, creativity” and factual correctness.

It is also easier to trick a computerized-test: during a trial run, test-takers were able to manipulate the system by adding nonsensical words to lengthen their essay, which went unnoticed by the computerized system and rewarded them with high scores. This has since been corrected, yet the structure still suffers from similar errors.

Based on the fact that the use of computer-based grading includes a mostly balanced mix of benefits and pitfalls, Zhang argues that the question comes down to the extent to which we should rely on such a tool in the scoring of standardized tests. He proposes several approaches, from complete dependence on the system to hardly any. The more balanced resolutions are a combination of the two methods of scoring, with any ratio of human- to computerized-scoring up to the reasoning of program administrators. To use automated-scoring in conjunction with human-scoring “could reduce the degree of human-generated inconsistency” in scores.

With this first foray into automated scoring, it will be interesting to specifically see the amount of dependence Common Core employs in its scoring.

M-A will begin administering practice tests this 2013-2014 year; the official Common Core test itself will begin next year (2014-2015) with the junior and senior classes.

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A sample test similar to the one that will be given through Common Core is available online (through Smarter Balanced). The District also distributed information concerning its implementation of the Common Core Standards through a slideshow. This provides a more general outlook on the changes that accompany our adoption of the Common Core standards, encompassing more than just computerized testing.

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3 Responses to “Common Core: Computerized Testing Comes to M-A”

  1. llobdell on January 20th, 2014 12:20 pm

    I am glad that the STAR tests are ending. It will be interesting to see what Common Core turns into.

  2. dbalestra on January 20th, 2014 4:41 pm

    Man that blows for you guys

  3. nsilverman on January 21st, 2014 5:52 pm

    I wonder how this will be an improvement from STAR testing, can’t wait to find out if it is from a student stand-point.