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Shifting Focus: The Decline of Testing Discussions in Education

Technology is changing the way we teach.

As schools continue to invest in new classroom innovations, school leaders are laser focused on persistent problem areas—classroom instruction, student voice and engagement, and staff communication, to name a few.

One area of innovation, though, is talked about hardly at all: testing. In the post-No Child Left Behind era standardized testing isn’t the sexiest of topics. The hangover is understandable.

But ignoring the impact of technology on student testing isn’t an option, writes education researcher and blogger Matthew Lynch.

In a post on Education Week’s Education Futures blog, Lynch offers several reasons why schools are hesitant to adopt new testing technology—and why they should re-think their approach to student testing.

Mistrust stifles change
Though educators have shown a willingness to experiment with new instructional technologies, many are still understandably wary of technology’s ability to equitably and effectively assess student learning.

It’s a combination of old habits dying hard and fear of the new, writes Lynch:

Changing the format of how these tests are delivered is a scary proposition for many lawmakers and administrators, one that does not come without a hefty price tag. When you add in the consortium (albeit a small one) of educators who are leery when it comes to any technology takeovers in classrooms, it isn’t difficult to see why there is so much hand-wringing when it comes to updating the way that assessments are delivered.

To be fair, educators’ mistrust of technology isn’t unfounded.

In the era of WikiLeaks, hacked emails, and digital identity theft, it’s natural to worry about how tampering might affect test results. Given the importance of those test results—the implications on school funding alone are huge—it’s not surprising that school leaders are slow to embrace unproven solutions.

Just this summer, the Reuters news agency reported a leak of new questions on upcoming SAT tests. Now College Board (who produces the SAT) and other test suppliers are under pressure to tighten security on exams. Such stories only serve to deepen educators’ concerns about the technology.

Still too expensive?
Cost is also an important factor—one that often prohibits districts from adopting the solutions that make the most sense.

The prospect of revamping testing procedures and implementing new technology is daunting and expensive. Faced with limited budgets, Lynch explains, educators would rather spend on tools that enhance classroom learning versus testing.

Online assessment and other testing technologies will no doubt become more affordable over time, but for many schools the idea of adopting expensive technology to do what, in their minds, has traditionally been done via paper or a Scantron is difficult to reconcile.

Learning through testing
While cost and security are important considerations, Lynch says there is a larger issue at stake when it comes to student assessment.

“It is our job to ensure students have adequate access to and mastery of the technology that will be part of their everyday lives as adults,” Lynch writes. What better way to expose students to the proper-use and challenges of technology than via the tests they take in school?

For Lynch, the transition to digital assessments is an obvious one. Not only will it enhance students’ understanding of technology, but it will complement the rapidly changing nature of technology in classroom instruction.

New school technology investments always create a stir. Do you know where your community stands on the latest testing technologies? If not, it might be time to find out.

Have you integrated new assessments in your schools recently? How did it go? Tell us in the comments.

For his innovative thinking on ed-tech and other important issues, Matthew Lynch is one of our TrustED 20.