While preparing for our standardized tests, too many of us assumed that because our students are “digital natives” their transition to online testing would be seamless and they would easily adapt and excel in these new environments. But navigating mobile apps doesn’t translate into some of the required tasks for online testing environments. That’s unfortunate because there are so many gifted students who just aren’t able to get their knowledge onto the screen, to truly show what they know.
Often, the assumption is that this is an equity issue—that only lower-income or rural districts struggle with gaps in technology fluency. But in my experience, these issues persist across all districts. In fact, during the first PARCC exam, I was teaching in an affluent, high-performing school. And despite the high rate of technology adoption across the district, I saw the majority of students struggle with being able to navigate the online testing environment. It just wasn’t something they were used to or comfortable with, and it was reflected in their unexpectedly low test scores.
So last year, when I moved to a school where nearly half of our students qualified for free and reduced lunch, I knew I needed to do more to make sure my students were prepared—not just for the content of the test but for the navigation of it as well. Would you believe that these students actually did better on the exam than their more affluent counterparts?
Obviously there are other issues at play, so I don’t want to appear to take all of the credit for my students’ success. I do believe, though, that the effort I made to familiarize them with the technology of the test did help them to feel more comfortable and confident while navigating a high-stakes online testing environment.
So, how did I help my kids get “tech-ready”?
Familiarize yourself with technology. The most important things teachers can do is get comfortable with testing technology themselves. We have to put ourselves in their shoes, and imagine how students will feel come test day when they can’t highlight the text or drag and drop correctly because no one ever showed them how. If teachers aren’t familiar with the tools themselves, then they certainly aren’t going to be able to properly demonstrate them to their students.
Practice makes perfect. Keyboarding and general navigation practice are essential, but not enough on their own. You can find ways to bring in tools and assessments that mirror the functionality of the tests. IXL offers math practice with the drag and drop functionality of PARCC. I also like the TIME for Kids Digital Edition because it allows students to read passages, synthesize information and answer questions like they are expected to on the English language portion of the test.
Move it online. If you can replace a traditionally paper and pencil test prep exercise with a computer-based one, do it! Spelling tests are a great way to get your students to practice keyboarding. Or, assuming you have enough computers in your classroom, try online writing exercises.
Put yourself in their shoes. I remember when I took the GMAT, I was so nervous that I stared at the screen blankly for the first fifteen minutes. Understand that your students feel an immense amount of pressure to perform – it is our job to make sure they have all the tools they need to feel confident, which includes the mechanics of how to take the test as much as what is on it.
Make it fun. If we are only using these types of technology and tools in high-stakes ways, then the kids are always going to feel anxious when they sit down in front of a computer, no matter how confident they are in their content knowledge. I find the easiest way to alleviate this anxiety is to lower the stakes, and incorporate the technology into dramatic play. In my class, students take turns playing class librarian—checking out books to their classmates by selecting, clicking, and dragging the titles on the screen. Not only do the kids love taking on the responsibility of the job, but the repetition of the task helps them become more acclimated and comfortable with the technology of the test, whether they realize it or not!
One last note: I’m also not suggesting we go back to paper and pencil tests—if we want to prepare students for the future, we can’t ignore the reality that their colleges and careers will demand they be able to use technology to demonstrate their skills and proficiencies.
But we can’t expect that this generation will be able to master the technology without some help.