Tennessee revamped its statewide testing program for the 715,000 students in grades 3-11 this year after it experienced major technical issues in 2018. Most of Tennessee’s 2 million tests were taken on paper rather than online, Chalkbeat reports. Only high school students took online tests this year.
Last year computer glitches slowed the state test-taking process to a crawl. The issues were so severe that emergency legislation ultimately declared 2018 test results unusable.
This year Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn made changes that allowed the state education agency to supervise the test administration of tests and immediately deploy staff members when there was an issue.
Other states can learn from Tennessee’s lessons. After four years fraught with statewide online test-taking trauma, the state removed some of the system’s stress by switching younger students back to pencil and paper tests. Limiting the number of online tests seemed to reduce the number of customer service calls by 38%. The wait time for assistance dropped from five minutes last year to only 10 seconds this year.
The slow rollout is especially helpful for districts that may not be up-to-speed in terms of broadband infrastructure. It also allows districts to beef up security to prevent hackers or respond to outside utility issues that could delay Internet processing speed.
While the testing period was more smooth in Tennessee, New York’s test takers experienced challenges when the Questar software that was being used for English language arts (ELA( tests in grades 3-8 crashed. Fortunately, only about 25% of the New York districts used online testing this year. Most districts in New York still use pencil-and-paper tests.
Aside from just being glitch-free, paper and pencil test taking may lead to higher test scores. Some research suggests that students score higher on tests when using the traditional paper-and-pencil method. The differences equate to a 5.4-month difference in math and 11-month difference in ELA. Though its unlikely that states and districts will completely revert back to pencil and paper, it may be worthwhile to take that factor into consideration when using the results for student placement.