Computer-Based Assessments: Things to Think About

As educators create Common Core assessment items this summer, let's look at what more complex assessments could do for student learning.

by / July 23, 2012 0

In two years, computer-based, interactive and adaptive assessments are coming to states that adopted the Common Core State Standards and joined the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortia — one of two assessment consortia that are developing test items this summer. Some of the Smarter Balanced districts are sharing what they've learned in their preparation process.

Let's consider how these three types of assessments affect schools and measure student learning.


Computer-based assessments

Idaho has been doing computer-based testing for about 10 years. In Pocatello School District, Principal Betsy Goeltz from Ellis Elementary School shared two things that schools don't always consider.

First, tests siphon time away from instructional activities on computers. Second, student computer skills should be sharpened ahead of time. For example, assessments require fourth grade students to type a one-page paper.

"You want their knowledge to come across. You want their achievement level to be able to be demonstrated through what they do, not the potential frustration with the navigation or the skill," Goeltz said.

Interactive assessments

Interactive assessments help students' knowledge come across because they engage students, said Tony Alpert, chief operating officer of the Smarter Balanced consortium.

"The last thing we want is the test to describe students' motivation rather than their knowledge," Alpert said. "We want it to describe their ability or their proficiency in the Common Core."

While motivation is important, authentic measures of student knowledge are more important, Alpert said. If assessors want to find out whether students can edit text, they need to allow students to edit text and score how well they did. Multiple choice tests don't always measure things like this accurately.

"We're trying to get at the true nature, the underlying intent of the Common Core," Alpert said. "That requires a more complex approach to assessment, and computers are a great way to be able to do that."

Adaptive assessments

Through adaptive assessments on computers, students will receive personalized assessments. For example, if students answer a question correctly, the next question will be more difficult. 

For the past four years, Bonsall Union School District in San Diego, Calif., has been using computer adaptive testing, specifically Measures of Academic Progress from the Northwest Evaluation Association. Since Bonsall started using adaptive tests, it has been leading the county in Academic Performance Index growth, an indicator of school academic progress, said Superintendent Justin Cunningham. The district's 2011 API score was 878.

With this type of testing, the district identifies students at the beginning of the year who don't understand a particular area, such as measurement geometry. Instead of waiting until March when this area comes up in class, the school district addresses that deficiency immediately with Web apps based in cloud computing. These apps connect to the data from the adaptive testing and personalize homework.

In the last year, kindergarteners started taking the adaptive tests. Their teachers didn't think they would work, especially with students who don't have computers at home. But they've been pleasantly surprised, Cunningham said.

"We have to move in this direction as quickly as we can," Cunningham said. "The idea that we should delay it because people aren't ready is the worst thing we could do."

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.