Is computer-based testing at fault for California schools' failures in English and math?
Pupils using computers rather than pens and pencils in modern testing. Source: Shutterstock/Pressmasters

More than half of students in California schools are failing to meet English standards – with even more failing math. Could a new testing system implemented by the state be to blame?

In 2015, California students were first exposed to a new computer-based test designed to encourage critical thinking and problem solving. The new system aimed to leave behind flawed traditional testing, which measures memory rather than skills.

But the recently-published spring 2017 standardized test results showed a lack of improvement from the previous year.

The test adheres to Common Core State Standards and is a modern approach to testing. In 2016, students’ results showed a marked improvement from 2015. However this year the results have flattened.

The computer-assisted tests are arguably more rigorous than more traditional “paper-and-pencil tests”, admitted Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction speaking to The Modesto Bee. However, the tests are designed to measure more valuable skills and not simply memory.

Torlakson is pleased schools have managed to retain the gains from 2016 but disappointed there was no notable improvement in 2017.

California school children are now tested through computers. Source: Shutterstock/Olena Yakobchuk.

California school children are now tested through computers. Source: Shutterstock/Olena Yakobchuk

According to the California Department of Education, nearly two-thirds of pupils were unable to meet math standards. Around 37 percent of students statewide met or exceeded math standards. The California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress revealed that around 49 percent of pupils met or exceeded English standards, showing no improvement from the 2016 results.

Approximately 3.2 million students took the tests this year. The assessments are taken by students in the third grade up until the eighth grade, along with the eleventh grade.

School districts received the results in May, with families receiving their children’s results over the summer. The public release was postponed until October in order to verify the results with the school districts.

While the tests show a readiness to move education into the 21st century and away from archaic forms of examination, not all parents were happy with the changes. One percent of parents exempted their children from testing.

In previous years, schools relied upon Academic Performance Index (API) scores but they have now been replaced by a school accountability dashboard which will officially launch in December. The standardized tests pupils have taken will form one of many parts of the new system.

The dashboard will rate schools on pupils’ progress, high school graduation rates, readiness of pupils for college and careers, and attendance among other things. Surveys will also be distributed to measure parent engagement, services for expelled students and other general matters including satisfaction with facilities.

The new form of testing may lead the way for contemporary education, yet it is clear there is still a long way to go in California schools.

Children are either not being educated to a high enough standard, or the tests are too ambitious and need amending. Either way, it seems the new system is suffering significant teething problems.

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