The Common Core Standards, adopted by 45 states to date, herald a new focus on learning and education. To test student achievement and growth, every student will be tested online.
The usual arguments against this online testing system center around affordability for school systems, internet access, and funding for more school computers. Where I teach in Appalachia, cost and availability is a huge concern. We definitely do not have enough computers for even a third of the student body and because of school funding issues, we still use 2007 versions of Microsoft Office.
But there’s one angle virtually no one is talking about because we’re all pizzazzed by the digital appeal of eBooks and iPads.
Reading Speed and Comprehension Concerns with eTextbooks
Standardized tests, especially for reading and science, consist of reading long, complex passages and then answering questions about the passages. However, some studies question the ability for students to comprehend material from a screen as well as they can from a paper and ink book.
Dr. David Daniel and Krisztina Jakobsen, psychology professors at James Madison College of Health and Behavioral Studies, found “learning from e-textbooks takes longer and requires more effort to reach the same level of understanding.”
Using eye-tracking technology, the study found that students read screens differently. Instead of a constant left-to-right sweep used when reading print textbooks, students jump around the page and scan paragraphs.
When readers use the jumping, skimming and scanning method, crucial details get lost. With a complex subject, this could mean students only receive partial understandings or need to take lots of additional time to understand what they read.
This is extremely problematic for standardized tests, as they are timed. Are the creators of the Common Core tests going to extend the time allotment to allow for the difference in processing screen text? Or will the new tests depart from the linear fashion of print and instead adopt a new “online reader friendly” version of presenting information?
Good Test Taking Skills: Active Reading Strategies:
As a teacher, one of the first things we tell our students to help them do better on the test is to write on the test booklet. By making notes in the margin, drawing diagrams when they become confused, using process of elimination, they are more likely to stay focused, engaged, and get the answer right.
Although many eBooks have features to allow students to highlight, annotate, and the like, will the new tests have these features? Will the makers of the Common Core be providing training to teachers for how to navigate the tests so we can get this critical information to our students? How will they account for this technology learning curve in students’ scores?
Benefits of Testing Online?
It’s obvious that by taking tests online the whole process is streamlined for test makers and school districts. Less paper means less production and less shipping cost, but will the shift cost our students?
When we look at the data that suggests that students still prefer print textbooks to eTextbooks, we have to wonder if this shift in test mechanisms is premature and ill-guided.
Too many questions and not enough answers are urging us to wait. It’s also leading us to ask the larger question – if student scores are affected by so many outside variables, are standardized tests really efficacious in the first place?
“E-textbooks Effectiveness Studied” – James Madison University, Department of Psychology
“eBooks and Student Learning” – Roberta Richards, Portland Community College
“The ABCs of Common Core in Ohio” – NPR
“Online Assessment Pilot (OAP)” – Ohio Department of Education