North Carolina's Transition into the Digital Age

The state plans to take advantage of all the modern technologies, including gradually offering more and more assessment tests online.

by Hannah DelaCourt, Star-News / April 27, 2015 0

(TNS) -- For children of the digital age, technology has crossed into almost every section of their lives, including schools.

Tools like Skype, YouTube, and Google Classroom allow teachers to connect with students using entertaining and collaborative lesson plans.

And North Carolina is developing a digital learning plan to accelerate this transition to a digital-age education system, which takes advantage of all the modern technologies that can be used in education.

Part of this plan includes gradually offering more and more state assessment tests online.

Tammy Howard, director of accountability services for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, said there is no set date for when online options will be offered for every state test, but that is the direction the state is moving.

Consistently increasing the number since the first online assessment was offered in 2006, as of this spring, all final exams, all end-of-course tests (Math I, biology and English II), the end-of-grade tests of science for fifth and eighth grades and the end-of-grade reading comprehension and mathematics tests for seventh grade are offered online.

Howard said with technology becoming more prevalent, it was a natural shift. Having an online option also allows the state to turn around scores quicker than with the old fashioned paper-and-pencil tests.

The benefits

Getting a response in a more timely fashion is one benefit of the online assessments, said Karen Greene, director of testing and accountability for New Hanover County Schools.

With online tests, Greene said responses can come in within 72 hours of an online test being submitted; whereas with paper-and-pencil tests, it usually takes eight to 10 schools days to get data back.

And another benefit, Greene said, is students are able to engage more with the tests online.

"It's a little more seamless," she said. "Our children are digital age children. This migration is just a natural part of that digital teaching and learning movement."

Not rushing in

Greene stressed that it has been a calculated shift for New Hanover County Schools.

Currently, early colleges and alternative schools in the county offer every available online assessment while traditional high schools are given the flexibility to choose between online and paper assessments.

This gradual change is to ensure students are familiar with the testing devices, whether they are taken on a desktop computer or laptop, so that they are comfortable when it comes time for testing.

Greene compared online testing to students learning on a specific calculator all year, but then being given a different device at the end of the year for a final test.

She said the device should not be a new variable that can potentially affect a student's test score.

"We wanted to make a deliberate and intentional plan to ensure that children are ready, and we have the devices in place so that everything will run smoothly," she said. "We want to provide the most optimal environment, so students have a chance to show what they know."

Greene said the wireless testing has been working smoothly for those schools it has been implemented in already, and the county plans to continue expanding its high school online testing. She added that it hopes to add the end-of-grade tests of science for fifth and eighth grades soon.

Both Brunswick County Schools spokeswoman Jessica Swencki and Pender County Schools Director of Accountability and Testing Sheryl Kimbro said while their counties are moving to more online tests, schools are still given the option to offer paper-pencil tests in many cases.

End-of-Course Math I has been one test that has stayed paper-pencil in Brunswick County.

Swencki said this is because in the teachers' opinion, the translation of mathematical equations can be difficult to an online version, and students are taught in the classroom using paper and pencil.

But Swencki added that Brunswick County is as prepared as it possibly can be to take on more online testing as it becomes available.

Howard said the next step for the state will be offering an online option for end-of-course tests in reading comprehension and math for the rest of the grades in addition to seventh.

©2015 the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.