Computerized Practice Tests Boost Student Achievement

By Cooper, Sue | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), September 2004 | Go to article overview

Computerized Practice Tests Boost Student Achievement


Cooper, Sue, T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


Like many teachers, I have had to adjust to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act requirements and to the need for high performance on state achievement tests. However, my fourth-graders and other students at Anna McDonald Elementary School in Manhattan, Ill., have benefited from computerized practice tests that prepare them for the real thing.

Manhattan School District 114 is currently undergoing major changes. Until about 1999, Manhattan was a rural community. Since then, several housing developments have replaced farms, so we foresee the need to build new schools and increase staffing. In terms of technology, we are well prepared for change. To accommodate our school's 638 preK-5 students, we have 30 AppleiBooks, a 34-station computer lab and a computer in each classroom.

'Practice Makes Perfect'

For the last two years, 12 teachers in our district have administered practice tests provided by Achievement Builders Corp. (ABC) to identify learning deficits in our pupils. These "Practice Makes Perfect" Web-based tests, which are correlated to state standards, include items from previous Illinois state standards sample tests for third-, fourth-, fifth-, seventh-, eighth- and 10th-grade students. The 40-minute tests are hosted on behalf of ABC by Questionmark Corp. (www.questionmark.com), who provides the software for creating, administering and reporting on the practice tests.

Statistical reports based on the results of these practice tests help us tailor our teaching to address learning deficits in the months leading up to the state assessments. For example, an item analysis report provides a chart that indicates what percentage of students chose a particular answer. This helps identify where the learning problem lies. The analysis might reveal that a student understands the basic idea but is falling down when it comes to working a problem through to completion. This information then gets channeled into strategic curriculum development.

Students are given raw scores and teachers receive scores and statistical reports within 24 hours of each test. By quickly identifying problems, there is plenty of time to address learning deficits and to help students succeed in these areas. Comparative reports from tests taken a few weeks apart help us track each student's progress. And now that I get tests marked automatically and receive reports that point out learning strengths and deficits, I am spending less time grading tests and more time teaching.

We have seen tremendous improvement in the deficit areas--scores from four tests given over a seven-month period bear this out. My class scored in the 40th percentile on the first science test, but we ended the year in the 74th percentile. …

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