Computer-adaptive testing: an innovative tool for teachers, students

Remember the days of pencil-and-paper tests and Scantrons? You probably do because we’re still in those days, but a new kind of testing that could improve education in Utah by leaps and bounds may soon be coming to a school near you.

Last week I attended an information session at Cherry Hill Elementary School in Orem where we learned more about computer-adaptive testing (CAT) and saw it in action. The students we observed taking CAT exams seemed to enjoy the format (as much as one can enjoy taking a test) and their teachers raved about its benefits.

CAT refers to a computer-based test that is able to determine a student’s academic ability by selecting questions to administer based on the student’s responses as the test proceeds. Basically, the computer begins by giving the student an intermediate-level question and if the student responds correctly the computer returns a more difficult question, or a less difficult question if the response is incorrect. By completing this process repeatedly, the computer is able to home in on the student’s ability level.

According to Cherry Hill teachers and administrators, CAT has many benefits. For example, teachers can see which principles each student, groups of students or a whole class have mastered or need to work on, which allows teachers to target specific concepts in their instruction and make it more individualized.

The teachers also said their students know their scores from previous tests and are determined to improve their score on future tests. The students are encouraged, even elated, when they do raise their scores, which indicates that these students have become more interested in and responsible for their learning.

There are some concerns about using CAT on a large scale, and the state would have to obtain federal permission to use it for reporting related to NCLB, but the Utah State Board of Education has embraced the idea and legislators are proposing a bill that would require schools statewide to implement CAT.

What do you think? Would CAT help improve education in Utah?