“I don’t understand,” he whispered to his fourth-grade teacher.
“Read the directions again,” she whispered back.
Delaware is one of a handful of states that has moved all of its testing online. On a recent visit to Townsend, students were filing into the computer lab throughout the day to take tests. But if a multi-state effort to create better tests is successful, the vast majority of U.S. schoolchildren will be taking standardized math and English tests online in three years.
Some education reformers and technology experts are hailing the move, which has the backing of the Obama administration, as a revolution. They are promising more well-rounded tests, less frequent cheating and immediate feedback for both students and teachers as students’ answers are transmitted quickly over the Internet to states and the results are then sent back to districts.
But other educators and experts point to a host of potential problems. Shrinking school budgets could make it difficult for districts to purchase new equipment, and states that pioneered online tests have dealt with network meltdowns. Some worry that the move to online testing could take time away from learning.
The online format allows states to give standardized tests — once a week-long ordeal in the second half of the school year — as often as four times a year. It’s an opportunity that early adopters such as Delaware have already embraced.
“This is so thrilling and exciting for those of us who work with schools,” said Joe Willhoft, executive director of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of two groups developing the new tests. “Not only will we have the end-of-the-year test, but we will also have tests that teachers can use throughout the year that can help students.”
Townsend Elementary, which is located in the Appoquinimink School District, gives students additional computer-based tests each year that teachers say are more fine-tuned than the state exams. “It used to be testing week,” said Charles Sheppard, the principal at Townsend. “Now we just test.”
Forty-four states and the District of Columbia plan to adopt new tests by the 2014-15 school year under a program funded by the Obama administration. The states, including Maryland but not Virginia, have divided into two groups that are sharing $330 million from a federal competition to develop different versions of the online tests, which will be tied to a set of common standards established in 2010.