Proposal: Smart Testing

Smart Testing is not a proposal to modify an existing test and quiz system; it is a proposal to rethink the purpose and outcome of testing students. Most will agree that the current testing models are in place in an attempt to determine what a student has learned or memorized prior to the testing period and to determine if the teaching process was successful. Regardless of the outcome, if the student passes the test, the class moves forward to a new subject. Smart testing utilizes current technologies and methodologies to teach students, share teaching strategies that work, and provide streamlined study methods. The following paper will outline the Smart Testing model in general. After discussion on the Smart Testing model, I will answer the question, how standardized testing can fit into the smart testing model, followed by a brief outline of how the model may be implemented over the next two years.

Smart Testing, Utilizing Current Technologies

We are not discussing simply taking an online test (or quiz). We need to ask ourselves this year and in each year to come: what can current and future technologies do to aid us as educators in teaching students, sharing teaching strategies and streamlining study methodologies?  How can a typical teacher written test for a set subject be used to identify issues for the teachers and the administration to learn from, versus taking separate time consuming standardized tests.

Teaching Students

Smart Tests, Teach Students

When I ask a student under the current test taking or standardize test model, for example a question may be, After a unique election in 1801, who was elected as the third president of the United States? I will get an answer. After answering, the student does not know if they got the question right or wrong. Once a current test is completed and turned in, a total grade is provided to the student. A teacher may review the test; regardless most of the students don’t care, since the test is over, which questions they got incorrect. Even the best teachers, who see high test scores, assume the lesson was learned if a student passes. Many times they do not know which questions a percentage of students missed.

The act of taking a smart test is a two-step process. First, the question is asked, Who was the third president of the United States? If the student answers, Thomas Jefferson, the next screen indicates the answer is correct. For example, there may be a green checkmark on the screen followed by the next question appearing on the screen. In the case of the correct answer, the student is not asked about this election again during the test. IF the student answers incorrectly, in this example, a screen appears with the following: After one tie vote in the Electoral College and 35 indecisive ballot votes in the House of Representatives, Vice President Thomas Jefferson is elected the third president of the United States over his running mate, Aaron Burr. Following this paragraph the next unrelated question appears, the student moves on with the test. After a specific time period, the student who answered incorrectly is asked a variation of the previously incorrectly answered question (i.e. “What unique election resulted in Thomas Jefferson elected as the third president of the United States?”). The student is then offered the multiple choice answer one of which would be, one tie vote in the Electoral College and 35 indecisive ballot votes in the House of Representatives. It is our desire, under the smart test model, that the student read the incorrect review paragraph and is able, on a second attempt, to answer correctly, having learned from the testing process.

The process of grading a smart test is a computerized three step process. First, the teacher is provided two test scores for each student, the first attempt score and the second attempt score. Teachers can elect which scores to accept; however, students were offered the opportunity to learn from the entire testing process. Second, teachers are provided a list of the top questions students answered incorrectly on each test. This information can be used to target the areas which most students did not understand on the test. This information can be used to modify teaching strategies the following term, knowing in advance with which areas students have had difficulty in the past or used as a review lesson. And last in the three step grading process, teachers are provided a list of successful strategies submitted by other teachers in the subject area to teach students the specific area in which students had difficulty. Maintaining a successful strategy database allows teacher to advance each year versus repeat unsuccessful processes.

Sharing Teaching Strategies, Teaching as a team

Once each test is graded, teachers are provided a list of successful strategies other teachers and educators have suggested to teach the areas in which their students did not answer successfully on the first attempt. After each smart test is graded teachers are provided the categories used in the test and, if their students scored high in a category, asked what strategies they found successful in teaching students this category. In the US history example provided above, the category may be US History followed by Early 1800’s, First presidents, unique elections, 6th grade, the title of the book and chapter or Thomas Jefferson. Using this technique, educators can share and utilize successful teaching strategies for various types of material. Teachers who have used a strategy offered are asked at a later date to score the strategies, giving each strategy 1 to 5 stars.

Teachers teaching

As an educator, I know the process of developing tests, editing tests, and giving tests are not as interesting as teaching and inspiring students, coming up with new strategies, learning and implementing best practices.

Streamlining Study Methodologies

There are current apps and computer websites that have been developed to help students review. The smart testing model goes further than any of these technologies. Once test questions are entered into the smart testing system (see model outline) these questions are not just used to test students, but also to help students review. For example, a teacher may easily select which questions they want on their test from all the previously entered questions in a given category, write some additional questions and select questions for review (or even open it up to all questions, which are not selected on their own test). Students can log in to the smart model on a computer or smart phone and be given random questions in each category. The smart review is a funneled model. Students are first asked one or two review questions in each area/category, and given the answer or told they are correct. Next they are asked questions only in categories in which they answered incorrectly. This continues until they have won the review by answering correctly in every category. Some students may be finished after 100 questions because they answered all questions correctly. Others may be asked 100 questions then only 10 questions pinpointed in the areas they answered incorrectly. If a student repeatedly has difficultly in one specific area, they are asked if they would like this to be transmitted to the teacher for review prior to the test. Why, after all, would students be asked all questions when they seem to have already mastered a category?

Standardized testing

In the future, I believe standardized testing can be integrated into the smart testing system. I am proposing the current standardized testing be dismantled in favor of smart testing. The schools should, in my opinion, be in the business of educating students over testing students. All current standardized test questions can be categorized into the smart test system. These questions are then used by the standardized testing agencies in multiple ways. One, these standardized test questions are inserted in the class smart tests at random, only a few questions inserted into each test in various categories. The results of these random questions are not tabulated into the students’ test score, they are provided electronically in real time to the standardized testing agency to allow the department to verify students at each school in each grade level are being provided an acceptable level of education. Two, the data provided to the department is data mined. Some questions will be flagged for rewrite; if certain areas of the state (rural versus city for example) are consistently not answering a question correctly it may not be the students but the question. There are endless ways this data can be data mined to aid in providing strategies for advanced education. The information is not to be used to grade schools but to understand which schools need new strategies. Once these new strategies are implemented and graded by the teachers, they can be updated and/or shared. Instead of students in one grade being given a one test fits all approach, students are only tested in the classes they are attending. For example, gifted math students in 5th grade will no longer be taking 5th grade general math standardized tests. Students in Algebra I honors, regardless of age or grade, will be given questions suitable to the Algebra I category. The question is not whether 8th grade students are learning 8th grade math, but rather whether Algebra 1 students are grasping Algebra 1 and whether Math 8 students are grasping Math 8.

College bound students

The AP, SAT and ACT are standardized tests with unique test questions. May times these types of questions are not covered in the typical testing preformed during the year. With the implementation of smart testing, teacher can work on various ways to integrate these types of questions into their weekly tests and quizzes. The answers to these questions can aid teachers in review for these test pinpointed to specific areas the students need support over all areas in general.

Psychology of testing

There are numerous peer reviewed studies citing how long tests should be at each grade level, how many questions are appropriate, whether quizzes (which would also fall under the smart test umbrella) are more appropriate than tests, and at what age quizzes are more appropriate than tests. Should breaks be given at set intervals? Graphically should the entire test be given on a white screen with black text or should that change over the length of the test. Students tend to move quickly through a test, each test question is provided a minimum length of time. Students can elect to take longer to answer a question but they cannot move so quickly as to not have time to read each question or read the incorrect answer paragraph. All available methodologies should be utilized and implemented by into suggestions for teachers using Smart Testing.

Implementation

Time needed to develop tests are better utilized to educate students and support teachers. Implementing Smart Testing is a step in that direction. Once Smart Testing is implemented, it should be monitored and revised yearly utilizing updated technologies, learning models, and strategies.

Implementation Outline

  1. Select from your own pool of teachers and/or hire a Smart Test implementation team
    1. Educators at all levels, Psychologist, Computer programmer, and Data miner
  2. Develop an outline for K-12 Categories.
    1. The overall smart testing system starts with an outline of categories. The team can simply list each class offered by the school and break each class down into the sequential areas of study within that category. Class title, area of study within the class, and specific topic. In the beginning teachers can write their own questions directly into the smart test system or simply title all old tests using the team generated outline and highlight the topic of each question and have data entry personnel enter the questions.
  3. Develop and test the Smart Test database
  4. Develop questions for a test and review.
    1. The smart test program would require 3-5 questions on each sub topic within a sub category and the answer in a sentence that the student would read if they answered incorrectly. Once questions are in the system, prior to each test the teacher can click which questions they want on the test or quiz as the first question, the second question (if the first is answered incorrectly) or which should be offered for review (any questions can also include an image). They can add questions or remove questions. For example, for the previously mentioned US History Question on Thomas Jefferson, a teacher would only be required to select a category (US History), sub category (1800’s) and then would be offered all questions in that sub category or the teacher could select a sub topic (presidents). The teacher could give a series of quizzes on presidents, the 1800’s or a test within any of the categories by simply clicking which questions to give. The students would be offered a review on their iPad prior to the test followed by the test during class. Note, the teacher writing a question would write the question, an incorrect review paragraph, and a second question with an incorrect review paragraph (could just copy the previous review). Although this may seem as if it is time consuming, time is saved generating questions each time any teacher writes a question another teacher can select. All these are time saving opportunities in the future.
  5. Over the year or summer teachers would be asked to enter questions and a review sentence to lead to the required number of questions and answers on each topic.
    1. This would start the system. After one year of teachers adding in questions, the system would have thousands of questions to select from. The system can not only categorize questions, but also rank consistently selected questions, merge similar questions, remove old questions, and send rewards to teachers writing quality questions.
  6. Request best practice teachers to write simple questions that follow the AP, ACT and SAT question type to add into the system. Categorize all standardized test questions and write incorrect review paragraphs (standardized test questions are not tallied into the students score. It is up to the department if they want second questions for incorrect answers to be given).
  7. Provide access and answers

Other concerns, Cheating

Smart tests provide questions in a random pattern. Although all students are offered the same teacher written or selected questions, they are not provided the questions in the same order. It is difficult to cheat off a neighbors test when the questions are not in the same order. Teachers can also, for example, select 100 questions (2 in each category/ topic, one as the primary and one as a secondary, the primary and secondary questions can switch at random). Teachers can elect to have the smart test give each student 50 random questions, one in each category. Students taking a test in first period are not given the same 50 questions as those in the 3rd period; this inhibits students from giving answers to other students outside of class.