Troubles with testing: teachers adjust to administering tests virtually

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Graphic courtesy of Emily Mulderig

Julia Weinrod

School is fully flung in session, and fully online. In addition to classes and assignments being virtual, tests are as well. Right now the status of finals is unknown, but midterms will definitely be occurring online in November. For some students, having more open-book tests is a dream come true. On the other hand, teachers are being challenged to design tests in a way that can accurately measure students’ understanding.

Outside of state-mandated assessments such as ANet and i-Ready, most Wilson teachers had not administered tests virtually until this spring. Several testing tools that are popular now include Canvas, Google Classroom, and My AP Classroom. These websites allow teachers to give and receive assignments in an organized manner. Teachers and students with greater technological capabilities have an advantage in handling coursework over those who aren’t familiar with downloading and uploading files.

Walker Yane is an Honors Algebra II and AP Calculus BC teacher. His experience with virtual testing through the spring and fall has been that “online testing works for students who are passionate and care about the material.” He gives out tests on programs like Delta Math and Canvas, or as written sets of questions. Students who truly want to learn and understand the concepts taught will be able to do just fine, although it is not perfect.

However, he does worry that a door for cheating has been opened. He is aware that there are students who use programs such as PhotoMath that solve test questions and provide the steps to write down, although he does his best to outmaneuver cheaters. “I have had to rewrite tests, and I am starting to write tests that PhotoMath cannot [solve],” he said.

This is more of a concern for his Algebra II class where it’s harder for him to judge students’ progress. He said, “For calculus, I have a pretty good idea of exactly where my students are. For Algebra II, it’s far less accurate, because there are many apps and programs that make solving things very easy.“ Algebra problems are simpler and therefore easier to look up. This makes it hard to tell who is doing their work, and who is having it done for them.

World History 1 and 2 teacher Patrick Cassidy is also concerned about cheating because of an experience in one of his classes last spring. This year, he currently administers tests as written work and projects, which are meant to test skills as well as knowledge.

“It’s causing me to reflect and to think about maybe redefining what learning is to me,” says Cassidy, thinking about this year’s changes. “I used to think closed book tests were really testing whether students knew something. Now I look back and think, did they really learn material, or did they go back and study it so they could answer the questions?” 

For the next few months at least, online testing is here to stay. Not only is it used at Wilson, but last May it was used for AP tests. That had never been done before, and for many students it was not successful. That week, a lawsuit was launched against the College Board, seeking damages of over $500 million because of those exams. It is unknown if at least some AP exams will be computerized this year as well.

There has been some speculation that the ACT and SAT will be administered online in the future. Many regions haven’t had in-person tests in months, and the organizations behind the tests (ACT and College Board) have lost a significant amount of money in registration fees. Cheating on these tests, however, has much greater implications. Organizing these tests to give everyone an equal chance from home will be no easy task.