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Online assessment put to the test

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For schools the increasing use of online assessment tools is a hotly debated subject. While there are clear pros and cons, questions remain about how online testing impacts the test taking process.

On the up side, research shows that online assessments are freeing up teachers’ time and enabling them to provide students with more timely feedback - and also better overall feedback on both teaching and learning. Another advantage is that the marking is standardised, so all students doing an online assessment are reported against the same learning progressions, making it easier to monitor a student’s improvement over time. By utilising technology online testing can also be more engaging, as it can include images, video and sound – which can be a benefit for more visual learners.

More obvious advantages of online testing include convenience, efficiency and lower costs. With less manual handling the efficiencies make it easy to administer thousands of tests simultaneously across the state or nation, in a single day. Plus it is a win for the environment too – with savings in printing (through both paper and ink), transportation, distribution and storing test booklets.

On the flipside online assessments do have limitations. For example, teachers can often only set tasks that can be scored by a machine such as multiple-choice questions or questions requiring specific answers. However some schools are investigating software that can assess writing tasks – such as ACER’s eWrite program which can machine-mark narrative, descriptive, reports and persuasive writing.

Multi-stage testing and ‘computer adaptive’ tests are also being used in some countries. In these cases the online testing process can direct students who are doing well in a test to a harder set of questions – or if they are struggling, to easier questions. This can make the testing more appropriate to the level of difficulty of individual students.

However according to professor Geoff Masters AO, Chief Executive of the Australian Council for Educational Research, it’s important to understand the limits of the testing you are using. “Some online assessments are designed primarily to achieve more efficient test delivery,” he explains. “Others appear to be shaped by what is technologically possible, rather than educationally desirable.”

While the sector is constantly looking at how to enhance the educational value of online assessments, there’s no doubt that they are here to stay and they will continue to change and be refined over coming years.

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