Integrated Testing Software Makes the Grade at College of DuPage

In a community college with 35,000 students, a centralized testing center is a tremendous convenience for students and instructors alike. The challenge, however, is how to quickly and accurately provide gradebook information, item analysis and other data to the individual instructors and to provide prompt response to students. For Illinois' College of DuPage, the nation's largest community college, the solution came in the form of an integrated software package. While the College of DuPage was using automated test scoring to streamline the testing process, there was definitely something missing according to Irene Kovala, associate dean of assessment, testing and academic alternatives. "We were using Scantron (Tustin, Calif.) test scoring machines and scannable forms, which made test scoring fast and simple, but there was no recording of the information and no feedback to instructors," she recalls. "Instructors had to download scores and create their own database from the information. It was a lot of extra work." In addition to automatic grade transfer, instructors were also requesting item analysis and item banking capabilities. With these requirements in mind, Kovala says the college began searching for a solution. An All-In-One Solution "I was very interested in finding an all-inclusive program that would integrate test creation, grading and item analysis," says George Hampton, a DuPage instructor who helped select the software. "I also believed online testing capability was an absolute necessity." Hampton says his search turned up many software programs that allowed the creation of item banks and tests, but didn't offer a complete solution. "Once I found Scantron's ParSYSTEM software, I knew we had everything we needed," he says. In addition to allowing online testing (conducting tests entirely on a computer), ParSYSTEM allows tests to be taken on scannable forms and scored with Scantron and other brands of optical mark readers (OMRs). It also features a unique roster function that tracks grades and gives instructors automatic access to the information. "When you're dealing with the number of students we test on a regular basis, this is very important," Hampton says. Once the ParSYSTEM software was selected and installed on the center's Novell network, Kovala says online testing immediately became very popular. "Currently, nearly 50% of the center's tests are given online," she says. Creating Better Tests Kovala says students aren't the only proponents of ParSYSTEM software and online testing. "The faculty is very pleased with the amount of data derived from the ParSYSTEM software. And with the item analysis function, instructors are creating better, more outcome-oriented tests." Hampton concurs, "ParSYSTEM's item analysis and online functions give instructors better control over tests. The item analysis feature allows instructors to evaluate their exam and if changes are necessary they can be made at the server and tests are updated immediately. There is no worry about a student receiving an incorrect copy of an exam, and test security is dramatically increased." In addition to increased security, Hampton says online testing with ParSYSTEM also speeds up the testing process. "Students really appear to test faster online," he says. "It seems they are more likely to sit down at the terminal and get right down to business." Hampton says another benefit is the ability to use pictures or "figures" when creating tests. "By simply scanning photos, graphs or other images into the software, instructors can greatly expand the depth of an exam," he says. Instructors also use ParSYSTEM software to create paper tests, which are taken on scannable forms and scored on a Scantron OMR, for students who are uncomfortable with online testing or for those exams that require written responses. Test scores are immediately entered into the system and recorded in the student's gradebook as they are scanned. Expansion in the Future Kovala says the introduction of ParSYSTEM software and online testing has been so successful, plans are underway to expand the number of computer terminals available to students. In addition to the expansions at the main campus, Kovala says there are another five campus sites located throughout DuPage county that soon will be linked to ParSYSTEM. "By fall we will be networked to each of these sites and we will be able to offer ParSYSTEM testing to everyone," she says. "This represents a great step into the future for the college."

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.