Should parents be asked to administer on-line tests to their own children at home?
Back in May someone at Data Recognition Corporation (DRC) had an idea.
Since a global pandemic had shuttered classrooms, no children were being forced to take the multi-billion dollar testing company’s products.
Federally mandated assessments like the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments (PSSA) and Keystone Exams – which are made by DRC – were cancelled.
And local districts weren’t even making students take assessments like the Classroom Diagnostic Tools (CDT) – an optional test to determine if kids were ready to take the mandatory tests.
If someone at DRC didn’t act quickly, the Commonwealth might ask for a refund on the $1.3 billion it spent on standardized testing in the last eight years.
The Minnesota-based DRC, a division of CTB McGraw-Hill, wasn’t about to issue any refunds.
So someone had to figure out a way to keep children testing even though they were currently at home sheltering in place.
But that’s it!
Tests like the CDTs are taken online anyway. Theoretically, kids could access them in their own homes, they just need someone to help them sign in, navigate the Web portal and make sure they aren’t cheating.
Normally, that would be the job of classroom teachers, but educators can’t do that AND have students test at the same time.
During the pandemic with most schools shuttered, teachers only communicate with students remotely – through applications like video conferencing sites such as Zoom. If teachers proctored the tests, too, that would require students to take the tests on one Web accessible device and have the teachers communicate with them on another.
Can you imagine a child taking a test on her iPad while participating in a Zoom meeting on her cell phone? If she even had both devices? And the bandwidth to run both simultaneously?
That’s where parents come in.
Students can test on their computers or devices with their parents, in-person, troubleshooting and monitoring their behavior.
Thus, a truly stupid idea was born.
To my knowledge, not a single district in the Keystone state has yet taken advantage of this scheme.
And why would they?
Even the most data driven local administrator or test obsessed school director knows that a sure way to infuriate parents is to ask them to do something that is essentially the school’s job.
Moreover, in these difficult times, parents have their hands full just keeping food on the table. If they can somehow get their kids to log in to their online classes every day, that’s a plus. If they can get their kids to actually turn in the assignments, it’s a miracle.
But to add proctoring a test on top of everything else!? Districts would have to be nuts to even try!
However, DRC and the state Department of Education aren’t giving up.
As an increasing number of schools go on-line, the state extended the program through the 2020-21 school year, and some districts are actively considering it.
Here’s how it’s supposed to work.
Classroom teachers would provide parents with testing materials including a log-in ticket for each child in the home taking the test. Students would have to access the test online through the Chrome Internet browser. Then they’d have to copy and past the URL into the browser (which would be provided in the testing materials), and input their usernames and passwords.
Normally, the test is given in writing, science and math, has 50-60 questions and can last between 50 and 90 minutes. However, DRC is recommending districts give a new shorter version of the assessment that has 15-18 questions and can last between 20-30 minutes (10-20 minutes longer for the reading test).
During this time, you should watch your children as they take the tests. It is up to you to make sure they aren’t copying down any information from the test or cheating.
You can let your child have scratch paper, highlighters and calculators. But no preprinted graphic organizers, cell phones, dictionaries, thesauri, grammar or spell checkers, other computers or devices.
And if you have any technical issues, DRC wants you to know the company has your back. Meaning that they can’t and won’t help – call your local school district.
Here’s what DRC’s Parent/Guardian Test Administration Guide recommends for technical support:
“If technical issues arise during testing, parents/guardians are asked to contact the student’s teacher and/or the student’s school office for technical support. DRC customer service staff cannot directly support issues related to each home’s technology configurations.” [Emphasis mine.]
And this is true even if the test, itself, directs parents to contact the corporation:
“If a student receives an error message during the test administration that includes instructions to contact DRC for technical support, the parent or guardian who is assisting with the test administration should contact the student’s teacher or school office for additional instructions. Parents or students should not attempt to contact DRC’s customer service directly for technical assistance.
Teachers and/or a school’s technology staff will have the information needed to provide parents/guardians with the level of support to resolve most technology issues. If additional support is required, a school or district representative will reach out to DRC to determine a resolution.”
However, technical problems are never much of an issue with the CDT – and by “never” I mean ALWAYS.
In the past five years that I’ve given the test to my students in the classroom, they are routinely kicked off the program, have trouble accessing it, and their answers are not always counted, requiring them to re-enter inputs numerous times.
Taking this test remotely is certain to put quite a strain on districts since these technological problems will occur not as they normally do within school buildings but potentially miles away in students’ homes.
Let’s be honest – this plan will not work well.
Few students will be able to take the tests and finish.
Of those that do, even fewer will give it their best effort outside of a classroom setting. In fact, there is no quicker way to turn off a student’s curiosity and motivation to learn than sitting them down in front of a standardized test.
Of those that do somehow manage to finish and score well, there will be no certainty that they didn’t cheat.
Many of my students have secondary electronic devices like cell phones that they use in addition to their iPads. In fact, that’s a part of my remote classes.
I often have them play review games like Kahoot where the questions are displayed through their Zoom screens and they input the answers on their cell phones.
A significant percentage of students will inevitably use these secondary devices to define unknown vocabulary, Google facts and anything else to get the right answers – if they care enough about the results.
In my own remote classes, tests are designed to either assess student skills or access information they already compiled in-class on several study guides which they are encouraged to use during the test. In short, cheating is more work than paying attention in class.
These CDTs will not be like that at all. The scores will be completely worthless – more so than usual.
And few parental proctors will be able to fully comprehend, control or participate in the process.
So why not just skip parents and have classroom teachers proctor the tests through Zoom?
Because of the physical distance involved.
On video conferencing sites, teachers can only see what their students are doing if the kids turn their cameras on. They rarely do.
And even if kids DO turn their cameras on, they have complete control over what those cameras are pointed at, how long they stay on, etc.
It would not take a very enterprising student to cheat while a teacher tried to monitor 20 students online at the same time.
So why not wait until in-person classes resume?
Because it is entirely uncertain when it will be safe to do so given rising infection rates across the country.
However, even if it were safe, most schools are running way below capacity and with hybrid schedules. Students have shortened periods or attend on alternate days. Giving a standardized test under these conditions would be piecemeal, disjointed, discourage kids from even attending school and eat up a tremendous amount of very limited class time.
It would be like taking a dehydrated person’s blood instead of giving him a drink of water.
No matter how you look at it, this is a project designed to fail.
Because it is not about academics. It is about economics.
This is about DRC saving its bottom line. That’s all.
And any administrator or school director who can’t see that is incredibly naive.
Why take these tests at all? Especially during a global pandemic?
We already know students are struggling.
Many are checked out and don’t participate in the remote instruction being offered. And many of those who do participate are having a hard time learning without as much social interaction and hands on activities.
We should be focusing on ways to improve remote instruction. We don’t need a standardized test to tell us that. We certainly don’t need a test before the test.
Most districts use CDT data to place kids in their classes the following year. Kids with high test scores are put in advanced classes, kids with low scores in remedial classes, etc.
We already have daily assessments of how kids are doing. They’re called classroom grades. We don’t have to halt all instruction to allow some corporation to take over for days at a time.
Parents should call their local administrators and school directors and demand the CDTs not be given this year.
In fact, not only should the CDTs not be given this year – they should not be given at all – any year. They’re a total waste of time that dampen kids curiosity and drive to learn.
Moreover, the federally mandated tests (in the Commonwealth, the PSSAs and Keystone Exams) should be cancelled again this year for the same reasons. In fact, they should be abolished altogether.
This is another reason why corporate education reformers have been so adamant that schools remain open during the pandemic. Remote learning means increased difficulty in giving standardized assessments. It’s not that pro-testing fanatics value schooling so much – they don’t want to have to go another year without testing companies making huge profits giving these assessments.
The worst school policies are driven by economics, not academics.
And that’s what we have here, too.
So will any district be stupid enough to attempt to save DRC by sacrificing students and parents?
Only time will tell.
Click here to see DRC’s Parent/Guardian Test Administration Guide
Click here to see DRC’s CDT Public Browser Option – Test and Technology Setup Guidance
Like this post? You might want to consider becoming a Patreon subscriber. This helps me continue to keep the blog going and get on with this difficult and challenging work.
Plus you get subscriber only extras!
Just CLICK HERE.
I’ve also written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!