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The Evolution of Testing

Scantron’s Achievement Series Makes Teachers’

Lives Easier and Helps Students Succeed

Politicians call it accountability; kids call it testing; and educators have always viewed it as a necessary evil. Testing has undergone a significant evolution over the last three decades from something that helped teachers determine grades to being the core of a national accountability system. Scantron has been a constant throughout more than 30 years in education, and Scantron’s tools and technology have evolved to keep pace with different approaches to and visions of testing in education. The latest iteration of Scantron’s tools for testing is the Achievement Series, a powerful Web-based assessment platform that educators can use to develop and administer tests both online and on paper, capture results, and produce standards-based reports. One intent of the Achievement Series is that educators will once again view testing as a means to the end of all students mastering all standards.

The Past

Thirty years ago, quizzes and tests were used to help determine students’ grades and, in some cases, provide some diagnostic information about individual students’ strengths and weaknesses. Teachers typically constructed their own tests and seldom shared them with the teacher next door, even though they taught the same subject at the same grade level. One 8th-grade English teacher emphasized grammar and writing, while another emphasized literature and speech.

Historically, technology has made testing easier for educators. The advent of Optical Mark Readers (OMR), which read the bubble-in sheets, allowed for accurate and rapid scoring of true-false and multiple-choice tests. Initially, these tests had to be sent away to a facility for scoring. But in the 1970s, Scantron led the way in education with smaller, inexpensive scanners that could score a classroom set of quizzes in a few minutes. Vocabulary tests, daily quizzes, “checking for understanding” quizzes, and even parts of final exams could be scored rapidly and accurately. Teachers’ lounges were filled with the staccato echo of tests being scanned and scored.

The Present

Today is a different world. Every state has curriculum standards that define what students should know and be able to do. Because of the standards and accountability movement, educators are much more concerned about the quality of the tests they create and the extent to which they measure what is taught. They want to know precisely the strengths and weaknesses of each student, and they want the results of the tests immediately. Scantron understands what educators want; thus, they have created the Achievement Series. The Scantron Achievement Series is a powerful Web-based assessment platform with a content-neutral structure and multiple delivery capabilities. Educators use it to manage current tests and develop new ones, administer tests (online and on paper), and report results instantly. This is a system that is characterized by flexibility, timeliness and ease of use; provides alignment with any set of standards; and encourages collaboration among educators in creating tests and in analyzing and using results.

Educators use the Achievement Series to:

  • Create test items
  • Select test items from different sources (including their own)
  • Collaborate on item bank creation
  • Align items and tests to national and state standards
  • Construct quizzes or tests
  • Collaborate with others to create tests
  • Create multiple versions of the same test
  • Administer a test online or on paper, or a combination of online and paper
  • Use plain-paper or Scantron-type scanners
  • View results in a variety of formats.

That is a tall order. Let’s look at just one of the many possible implementations of the Achievement Series.

A Scenario

The Summer. Ms. Hernandez is the curriculum director for math. Her district had purchased the Achievement Series from Scantron in the prior spring. During the summer, she and her committee studied the results of the statewide tests to look for areas in which students were not performing well. They re-examined their curriculum for how they were teaching those standards, as well as created additional instructional strategies and activities. They also decided to use formative assessment more frequently on these and a few other standards to determine if the new activities were having the desired results. This is where the Achievement Series came in. They were able to choose test items from different sources, not just those from their textbook publisher. These items were already aligned to their state standards. They also decided to create a few items of their own that were based on the new instructional activities. Because the entire system is online, the committee members could work from home and collaborate online to develop and review the items. They decided to make the tests available both online and on paper.

The Fall. Math teachers began to teach the new activities and pay attention to the areas that had been identified as weak. They also began to use the tests that Ms. Hernandez and her committee had constructed. The feedback from teachers was outstanding. Results from the tests that were administered online came back immediately. For those tests on paper, the only delay was getting access to the one scanner in the teachers’ lounge. During the October workday, Ms. Hernandez called a meeting of her committee that had worked during the summer. She had three questions for them:

  1. Are all the items and the tests measuring what they were supposed to measure?
  2. Are the new activities and the new emphasis on specific standards helping kids learn those standards?
  3. What changes need to be made in the instructional activities and tests for the standards that have been covered thus far, and what lessons have we learned that will affect the standards still to be taught during the rest of the year?

Using the Achievement Series’ reporting function and statistical analysis of how students responded to each item and each distracter, the committee could tell quickly if an item or even a distracter within the item was not effective. They also were able to tell how many students in each class were mastering the standards. Ms. Hernandez asked each committee member to meet with teachers who had fewer than 70% of their students pass the test over the targeted standards and talk about alternative strategies. The committee also decided to put together the results from the state-level tests with the formative testing completed in the Achievement Series. The combined results will provide even more powerful information for teachers.

Analysis. What Ms. Hernandez and her committee were doing was nothing more than exercising instructional leadership. What made their efforts particularly effective was using the Achievement Series. They were able to collaborate, to create pinpointed formative assessment, analyze results, and make instructional decisions based upon solid data. Teachers were able to focus their instructional efforts on specific students and their documented needs.

The Future

In looking ahead, Scantron will continue to respond to the needs of educators. We will be adding more publishers’ items to our standards-aligned test item bank. We will add the capability to create and score short-answer items. And we will continue to listen to you, the educators, to create products and services to make your life better and to help your students succeed.

For more information on Scantron and the Achievement Series, visit www.scantron.com or call 1.800.722.6876.

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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