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This Just In: Computers Crash at Inopportune Times

April 19, 2016

Last week the Washington Post reporter Emma Brown wrote an article whose title describes the nightmare scenario of the “reformers”: Technical Glitches Plague Computer-Based Standardized Tests NationwideThe article begins with a paragraph that describes the glitches in generalized fashion:

Stressed-out students have found they sometimes can’t log on to their exams or are left to panic when their answers suddenly disappear. Frustrated teachers have had to come up with last-minute lesson plans when testing fails. Some school systems — and even entire states — have had to abandon testing altogether because of Internet hiccups thousands of miles away.

Ms. Brown then details the obstacles faced in several states, many of whom abandoned the computerized testing altogether. Some of the obstacles were completely predictable: rural and urban schools that lacked sufficient bandwidth, for example. Others were ad hoc: construction sites adjacent to schools that accidentally severed power lines and storms that wreaked havoc on computerized tests.

But the article overlooks the one overarching issue: computerized standardized tests designed to compare schools at the State level will inevitably lead to some problem somewhere in the State an that will, in turn, invalidate the test completely. Individualized formative assessments, on the other hand, may cause intermittent problems in a particular school but those problems are surmountable and the test results will still be helpful to teachers. In some, the problem is not computer-based testing… it’s computer-based standardized testing. Here’s hoping that readers, parents, teachers, and students can make that distinction.

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