Are the PARCC online tests better than paper?

Someone searched on Google for the question, “Are the PARCC online tests better than paper?” and Google sent them to these pages. I’m not sure what page they read, but I’m sure I could check. It’s just that there’s a simple answer to this question and a complicated answer.

The simple answer

The online format allows students to manipulate items rather than just writing answers or selecting a multiple-choice option. In that sense, the tests given online allow students to answer questions on the test as they might answer homework questions.

Furthermore, online tests don’t force students to look at three or more wrong answers that are almost certainly designed to trip them up. These “distractors,” as they’re called, in math especially, are usually answers students would get by making a common mistake. An example might be providing an incorrect option of 42 for the addition problem 18 + 34. This would catch students who didn’t remember to carry the one when doing the addition problem.

With the new online tests, students just type the answer more often, without any incorrect answers showing up and distracting them from solving the problem as they have been taught.

The complicated answer

Mandatory state testing of every student is required under federal law. For kids in general education classes, the online experience isn’t much different from the paper-and-pencil experience.

For kids with special needs, however, the online tests are superior, because technology can deliver any necessary adjustments or accommodations to the test more consistently than teachers can, especially if those teachers are at different schools or in different states.

If every kid has to take a standardized test, providing these accommodations for each individual student, based on his or her needs, is what guarantees compliance with the letter and intent of the federal law, known as No Child Left Behind, which got us started down the “test every kid every year” road in the first place.

See for yourself

I produced a short video that shows you how to access the PARCC practice tests. Your students should become familiar with the online testing environment as much as time will allow before they sit down and take a test online in the spring, when it will actually count.

The video has been published on the blog at Maryland Online Testing.org. Although the video uses grade 4 English language arts as an example, the same navigation and general purpose instructions apply to all grades in both math and ELA. The video’s available here:

Financial savings

Schools do manage to save some money by giving the tests online. They don’t have to pay for shipping or storage of test books, for example, and the testing company doesn’t have to pay for the printing of test books. All the questions are just on a website, and after students log in, they’ll get to see the questions on whatever test they’re taking.

However, many schools say they don’t have enough computers to administer the tests to students within the allotted time, as we reported, here. They may also need to purchase additional Internet bandwidth or computers in order to administer tests online to all their students and make sure the network at the school is still functioning properly for students (and staff members) who aren’t taking a test.

In the final analysis, the money issue may balance out on the plus and minus side. It concerns me that schools may purchase computers just to enable online testing and not purchase computers that can also be made available for online learning endeavors. Those decisions, however, are up to individual school buildings or school districts.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.