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Motivate While You Integrate Technology: Online Assessment

Integrating technology can seem like a formidable task to the K-12 educator. But what if there was a way to bring computers into the curriculum while saving time and engaging the learner? Online assessment can provide the regular classroom teacher with a painless and productive tool for testing with technology. Education World shows you how! Included: Helpful test-taking tips and four must-visit online assessment sites.

Are you looking for a simple way to integrate technology while motivating your students and decreasing the time you spend grading? Why not put your next test on the Internet?

About the Author
Lorrie Jackson

Lorrie Jackson holds a B.A. in communications and an M.A.T. (master of arts in teaching) in secondary English and history. Prior to becoming a full-time "techie," she taught high school English and creative writing in Ohio, as well as wrote and edited in the security and health-care fields.

Jackson is the author of "Surviving and Thriving with Computers," a chapter in The Student Handbook (spring 2002, Southwestern Publishing, Nashville, TN) and "Excellence for All and From All: A Look at Standards In One Inclusion Classroom" (Winter 2001) from The Bread Loaf Teacher Network Magazine, dedicated to e-mail-based learning in the English classroom.

Online assessment, the use of Web-based quizzes and activities for classroom testing, recently has become an effective teaching tool in today's K-12 classroom. Numerous Web sites provide ready-made tests and also offer teachers the capability to custom design their own tests with ease. Even tech-leery teachers find that putting tests online takes no more time than typing them into a word-processing program.

With online testing, students access the Internet, go to the site, and take the test. The testing site grades the tests and returns the results. Teachers can view their students' scores, as well as the time it took each student to complete the test, on a password-protected Web page or via e-mail. Students also can obtain their results immediately (if the teacher selects that option).

Any concept that can be tested objectively can be tested online using multiple-choice, true-false, fill-in-the-blank, and short answer questions. A few sites even allow students to type essays, which are later e-mailed to the teacher for grading. With both free and paid sites available, almost any teacher with Internet access on even a single computer can take advantage of the benefits of online assessment.

THE BENEFITS AND THE DRAWBACKS

The benefits of online testing include
  • increased student engagement in the curriculum. When students see their test results immediately, they are more likely to be interested in the outcome than when they have to wait days for a grade. Let that adrenalin rush of test taking work for you!
  • a flexible test environment. Students can take a test from anywhere that provides access to the Internet. Students have taken tests while on vacation in the Caribbean or home sick with mononucleosis.
  • practice with technology-based test formats. Many standardized tests, such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), can now be taken on a computer. The skills necessary for taking tests digitally (whether using software or the Internet) are different from those required for pen-and-paper tests. Many computerized tests, for example, don't allow students to return to a question after submitting an answer. The first guess, therefore, must be the best guess. Using online assessment introduces students to those emerging test strategies.
  • a painless way to integrate technology. Often, administrators, school districts, and tech staffs encourage the use of technology in the classroom but don't give teachers the time or resources they need to implement technology plans. Testing online is an easy way to begin using technology on a regular basis -- without using extra time or resources.
  • a time-saver. Online testing saves teachers grading time. More importantly, online testing saves instructional time; students can complete online tests in less time than it takes to complete pen-and-paper tests. The extra time can be used for higher-order thinking projects that apply the material on the tests!

The challenges of online testing include

  • student confidentiality violations. Check your school's policy on transmitting student information via the Internet. Even if your school approves online testing, you might want to assign pseudonyms, so only you know individual students' scores.
  • a lack of primary sites. Even if the actual questions are age-appropriate, directions on many online assessment sites can be beyond the reading levels of Pre-K-1 students. Screen each site to ensure that students can navigate the test with ease.
  • rigid scoring. Online testing sites can't intuitively read creative spelling the way a teacher can. Unless perfectly spelled answers are a test requirement, opt for true-false or multiple-choice formats, rather than fill-in-the-blanks or short answer tests.

TESTING TIPS

The following tips will help you get the most out of online testing programs.

Randomize your questions. Most sites offer the option of randomizing tests; students see the questions in different orders. Such randomization can help discourage cheating. An even better option is to input more questions than you'll use and have the test site randomly pull only a portion of each type of question for each test. That way, each student gets a slightly different test.

Restrict or close a test. By restricting public access to a test until after students have taken it, you prevent students from previewing the test. You can also prevent students from prematurely accessing a test by calling it a slightly unusual name (The Walrus Osmosis Quiz, for example). If students don't know the name of the test, they can't find it ahead of time!

Monitor testing. Sometimes, students don't feel as though they're taking a test when they're using the computer; they tend to chat or look around more than they would if they were taking a pen-and-paper test. Be sure to reinforce proper test-taking behaviors.

Rotate in a one-computer classroom. If you have only one classroom computer with Internet access, begin a project with the whole class. Then, as students work on the project, rotate them onto the computer individually for a quick objective assessment.

Be flexible. Testing online will be new for most students. If scores are low for the whole class, or if some students struggle even though you suspect they know the material, reteach and retest.

Have a back up plan. Sites are busy. Servers go down. Power goes out. Life happens. Be prepared to punt!

According to Using Electronic Assessment to Measure Student Performance, an issue brief from the NGA (National Governors Association) Center for Best Practices, "The benefits of electronic assessment are clear. By using this technology to measure student performance, state policymakers can improve the return of test results to teachers so they inform instruction. In addition, the technology can help customize learning and assessment. Finally, the use of electronic assessment may allow educators to integrate assessment with instruction to produce powerful learning tools."

Online assessment is an invaluable, timesaving technology tool. Try it once, with just one of your classes, and see how it motivates students and further engages them in the material. It's a tool well worth checking out!

RECOMMENDED ONLINE TESTING SITES

  • Discovery School's QuizCenter This free and easy-to-use site can be slow loading due to high traffic.
  • QuizStar Free and simple to use, this site does warn against use for formal testing. You might want to use it for reviews only.
  • Quia The granddaddy of all online testing sites offers loads of extras and the longest track record. The cost is $49 a year per teacher, with discounts for multiple teachers at a single school.
  • QuizLab An individual QuizLab Pro account is $39.95 a year.

Article by Lorrie Jackson
Education World®
Copyright © 2002 Education World

Updated 02/28/2006