Open Your Test Booklets: Why Standardized Testing Is Still a Pencil-and-Paper Event. (21St Century Assessment)

By Revenaugh, Mickey | District Administration, October 2001 | Go to article overview

Open Your Test Booklets: Why Standardized Testing Is Still a Pencil-and-Paper Event. (21St Century Assessment)


Revenaugh, Mickey, District Administration


The bubble sheet is like the armadillo. While the evolution of school technology transforms the way kids learn and teachers teach, the bubble sheet--that avatar of the standardized test, that bane of sloppy handwriters everywhere--still plods along, a stubbornly tough throwback to the eons BC (before computers).

The extinction of the bubble sheet seemed like a sure bet when school technology began taking off in the 1980s. It was hard to imagine that schools' ever-increasing computing power wouldn't mean faster, more flexible testing with faster, more accurate results. It would only be a matter of time before the big testing companies--the McGraw-Hill/CBTs and Harcourt Educational Measurements of the world--went electronic.

WE SCAN DON'T WE? But the bubble sheet lives on, along with the trusty #2 pencil and the months-long lag between the test and the results that can mean having to repeat eighth grade or--if you're a superintendent--pack your bags. The most radical innovation so far has been the scanning machine that ultimately converts all those pencil blotches into electronic data after testing day is through.

Why has standardized testing proven so resistant to technology? I he answers can be found at every link of the testing chain. Until recently, few schools have had enough technology to allow every kid access at test time. Security is a huge concern: if paper tests kept under lock and key can be copied or altered, imagine what could happen to electronic ones!

OVERWHELMED BEHIND THE CURVE On the other side of the equation, the test providers have much in common with their close cousins, the textbook publishers. While the technology involved in producing the tests has become quite advanced--with sophisticated development, analysis and banking of test items--the buck stops at the printing press.

For at least the past five years, the test publishers had their hands full keeping up with both customer demand and demanding customers. More states and districts caught the testing bug and began demanding more complex tests, with lots of written passages and performance-style exercises, aligned with our particular standards, thank you very much. …

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