Common Core

What Tech Skills Do Students Really Need to Take PARCC Assessments?

In the 2014-2015 school year, nearly 12 million K-12 students in public districts will take college readiness assessments online for the first time. In order for them to perform successfully, it is vital that both students and teachers have the technology skills that the new tests require. This article will focus on preparing for assessments delivered by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).  
PARCC Assessment Challenges
In a paper published last year, Bridgette L. Allen, principal at Marbut Elementary School (GA), shared lessons learned from the experience of implementing online assessment. She explained that young students had a difficult time with the instructions for the test, and that navigating the online testing software was also challenging. Her school administered tests three times during the school year, and did not master the logistics of test implementation until the third administration. As Allen and her co-authors wrote, “It took training, collaboration, and coordination on the part of the principal and teachers to begin implementing the on-line testing process with ease.”  Allen also identified issues with logins and slow load time as potential interferences with student engagement.

Allen and her co-authors also explained that during the first administration of the online assessment students’ scores were negatively skewed. The students were new to online testing, and their lack of experience with online testing in general and the testing platform in specific may have affected their abilities while completing the assessment. It wasn’t until the third administration of the online test that students had fewer problems and scores began to stabilize.

According to Jon Cohen, executive vice president for the nonprofit organization American Institutes for Research (AIR) and director of the Assessment Program, there are two ways to manage the transition to online testing: “One is slow and painful. The other is like pulling a bandage off. Just do it.” He described the slow painful route as adapting the environment and students to the test by trying to apply the paper test method of rearranging bell schedules, putting students in a room with a set amount of time and releasing them early from school when the test is over.

He advocated that a better approach is to adapt the test to the students and environment. An example of this would be integrating the test into the regular classroom schedule by stopping the test when needed and picking it back up again at a convenient time in the future (within test parameters) until each student is finished. The advantages that he outlined for this approach include avoiding shutting down the school so everyone can take a test, giving more tests and using less testing time, and taking into account student fatigue. He advised educators to stop treating online tests like paper tests because “locking a kid in a room for 2 ½ hours with a bubble sheet is not the gold standard of validity.”

Tech Prep for PARCC
Even though PARCC has declared that the test will work on older devices and operating systems as far back as Windows XP, the consortium recommends that districts migrate away from older operating systems that don’t have vendor support. The problem that David Wu, assistant superintendent for Hawaii’s Office of Information Technology Services, discovered when his state implemented online tests was that the hardware didn’t do a very good job of staying connected to newer networks: “In one particular school we had a problem with the wireless card within the computers. They were so old they wouldn’t connect properly to the wireless access point. They would either drop connections or they wouldn’t provide the proper bandwidth. If you had those issues during the test, it could cause the test to drop or reconnect.”

Another challenge is trying to figure out what technology skills students will need to take the test. Allen Miedema, technology director of the Northshore School District in Bothell, Washington, explained that when his district piloted the Smarter Balanced online assessment, they learned that they need to pay attention to the technology skills of students. He noted that his district now has a better understanding of the kinds of skills that students need and that they believe it makes a big difference if students have basic keyboarding skills before they take the online assessments.

The keyboarding skills that he described included familiarity with key layout (especially delete, arrow keys and the space bar) and how to select text and operate drop-down menus. Miedema found that in spite of people saying that students already knew how to use technology, they didn’t. He explained that though students may know how to perform specific tasks associated with their favorite computer games, that didn’t necessarily translate to the skills necessary to take an online assessment effectively. Additional authors have provided lists of technology skills that may be helpful for preparing students for the PARCC assessment.

Eric Curts, technology integration specialist at Stark Portage Area Computer Consortium, asserted that the purpose of assessments is to determine student mastery of subject-area content and not their technology abilities, and that a lack of technology skills could negatively impact student performance on these assessments. His list of technology tasks that students should know how to perform before taking the online assessments included the following:

  1. Click/tap
  2. Select object, text and area
  3. Drag/slide and drop selected material
  4. Unselect
  5. Scroll
  6. Use calculator, protractor, ruler and video player
  7. Plot points

Char Shyrock, director of curriculum at Bay Village Schools (OH), laid out the following technology shifts that districts should consider as they transition to online assessments:

  1. How is data being collected, shared and analyzed?
  2. What tools are available for students to use for simulations and manipulatives to model mathematical or scientific thinking?
  3. How can students build mathematical fluency through the use of learning games?
  4. How can students access real world data or work collaboratively to solve real world problems through the use of technology?
  5. How can students utilize technology to conduct research and design their own experiments?

These lists of technology skills and expectations are helpful in determining what students should know how to do. Our next consideration is how to assist students and teachers in achieving the technological competency required to successfully navigate online assessments. In an upcoming article, we will examine five valuable technologies that teachers and/or students can use to effectively transition to online assessments. 

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