Goodbye Bubble Sheets

Ah, a good day!

Today concluded my pilot run of online testing at Etown. It went swimmingly. This is a strange feeling for me, becuase everything at Etown is typically two or three steps more difficult than it has to be. But this actually went well.

At Etown, we do a lot of testing. Each student takes a pre-test and a post-test in both reading and math. We look at this data in several ways to track and predict student progress. This is a good thing.

However, since 1998 or so, this has all been done with Scantron stuff. Now, don’t get me wrong: I like Scantron. My new ES2260 scanner rocks. It’s blazing fast. But OMR scanning technology has serious limits. It needs perfect paper. Wrinkle the paper and the test won’t scan right. Staple, fold, or clip the paper, and the test won’t scan right. Dump coffee on the paper (I received a stack of coffee-stained tests just yesterday, thank-you-very-much) and the test won’t scan right.

And when the test won’t scan right, that means we’re not being as accurate as we could be. Not to mention the huge waste of resources in re-printing tests and copying answers from a bad sheet to a good sheet.

In short, these scan forms are the bane of my existence. Well, ones of the banes of my existence.

So what’s the solution? REALbasic and PostgreSQL to the rescue, naturally!

I recently began working on a solution that would allow our students to take their tests on the computer instead of on paper.

As a brief aside here, there was some initial resistance to the idea from some of our elementary folks, who were no doubt well-meaning in their dissent. They were afraid that taking the test on the computer might be too daunting for some of our younger students, who may have trouble reading what’s on the screen. This perplexed me, so I asked how they read what’s on the paper now. “Oh,” someone told me, “they don’t take the tests themselves. An aide writes down their answers on the test sheet!” When I suggested that said aide could simply enter these answers directly into the computer, I was met with wide-eyed stares.

At any rate, after a few false starts and some discouraging delays, yesterday was the big day. One brave Middle School math teacher offered to let me use one of her classes as my guinea pigs. And they loved it. As I circulated during the test, one kid looked up at me and said, “This is awesome.” Wow.

And the teacher loved that she could see the results in real time. That was a huge plus for her.

Today, as the test wrapped up and the next class began to filter into the room, some of them asked what the computers were for. My guinea pigs replied that they were taking their post test online. “No fair!” shouted the newcomers. “How come we don’t get to take our test online?”

I call that a success.

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