School Testing via Computer vs. Person

My son had his first parent-teacher conference at school today. During the conference, the teacher shared the results of the newly implanted, computer-based standardized testing. These results are the baseline by which his later results will be compared against, as well as a starting point to shed light on where he is now on his own, and in comparison to the school and district. He did exceptionally well on most of it, but when we questioned the teacher about the couple of areas that he scored lower in, she was unable to offer much insight. Turns out, none of the teachers have even seen the test questions, as it is new this year, and administered entirely on the computer. I cannot help but wonder at this, and how the teacher and parents are supposed to work with our children to improve the areas where they are lacking, praise them for areas they have excelled in. Furthermore, I wonder what impact the delivery system itself might be having on the results.

Is this test done in such a way that performance might be impacted by level of comfort and experience with computers? How fair is that if it is, considering not everyone has had the same exposure and usage with regards to technology? How might the results have been different if the teacher or guidance counselor had administered it? I distinctly remember my elementary school gifted test, specifically that I was irritated by the guidance counselor’s incessant prompting for me to “tell him more” during the vocabulary test. I learned years later that I had actually broken the county record on that section of the test, only missing one word. Turns out, the guidance counselor’s methods helped me, as I likely would’ve moved on quickly had I taken the test alone on a computer. I wonder how my son might have benefited from such attention and prompting, particularly given similarities in our personalities, attention spans, and the amount of time and focus we tend to give questions before moving on. While using computers to deliver tests is likely more time and cost efficient, is it really giving us an accurate picture of our children’s strengths and weaknesses?

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