Technology Earns High Marks in Opening Round of Online Testing

John Mooney | April 17, 2015 | Education
While PARCC itself remains controversial, state officials report new computer platforms had high rate of success

online testing
As controversial as the new PARCC tests continue to be, the technology behind the state’s new online exams passed its own test this spring.

A total of 98 percent of the students who took the tests – more than 800,000 in all – successfully completed the first round of tests using new computer platforms that essentially had never before been used for that purpose, state officials reported this week.

It was the highest success rate, in terms of using computer platforms, among the dozen states administering the PARCC exams, they said.

“It distinguishes New Jersey among a host of states (taking the PARCC), and brings us into a next generation of assessment,” state Education Commissioner David Hespe said in an interview Wednesday. “We want to congratulate districts on that accomplishment.”

That’s not to say there were no glitches or breakdowns.

Eight to 10 districts saw significant enough problems to require on-site state assistance, officials said, although problems in most cases resolved within the day. Several of the cases were widely reported, including instances in which computer viruses and malware that all but shut down the testing.

And 2 percent of the test-takers – or roughly 20,000 children – were still taking the tests with paper and pencil because the technology or computer programs used by their schools still need to be updated, officials said.

[related]But Hespe and his staff this week applauded the state’s overall technology readiness. The commissioner said earlier concerns about whether computers — and students themselves, dealing with new technology — would freeze up did not materialize.

“There was a great deal of concern about third graders in particular participating and their ability to type (their answers) and to interact with the devices,” said assistant commissioner Bari Erlichson, who is leading the testing effort.

“It was a concern that we carried with us in analyzing the field test and structuring the time allowed for students,” she said. “And I will say, we’re at a great place now in seeing that our schools did support our kids very well and supported our families in the transition.”

Computer technology readiness, and test administration procedures in general, remain a point of concern as the state will start a second round of the PARCC testing later this month.

State officials this week released a list of adjustments — small and large – being made to address issues that arose in the first round of testing.

Erlichson said, for instance, that the state would provide some flexibility on the timing of the tests to better fit individual school schedules. And to minimize the time required of schools, some schools also did larger group assessments that the state is encouraging for the second round, if applicable.

State officials also said that students themselves will be surveyed at the end of the second round of PARCC exams, with that feedback taken into consideration as the state plans future rounds of testing.