Education is the sphere of human activity whose major purpose is preparation of the next generations of people for the whole complexity of the social life and human interrelations. Education, especially during the current informational age, is the most powerful instrument that people might use to earn their living and progress in various directions including, politics, economy, technology, etc. Accordingly, the human society should pay much attention to the development of the educational system, and one of the initial steps in this direction is making sure that education is efficient in this or that country. Numerous testing tools and assessment systems have been created by scholars to measure the efficiency of education, but the bulk of them were the written or oral tests. This paper will focus on the new-age computer-based educational tests and assessment procedures in order to examine their efficiency and the future perspectives for development.
Computer in the Modern World
To begin with, the role of computer and Information Technologies in the modern world should be considered. This will allow shaping the focus of this research clearer and manifesting the importance of the latter more vividly. First of all, the modern world is computerized all over. It is the universal knowledge that every sphere of the human life is nowadays subjected to the computer technology control and supervision. When the election takes place, the computers count the votes and provide the authorities with elections results. Medical establishments are all computerized which allows diagnosing people more precisely and treating them accordingly. Financial institutions are also put in the dependency from the compute technologies as far as all banking operations, money transmissions, etc. are carried out through the use of Information Technologies and computers.
Drawing from this, the debate has been taking place among scholars like Adiguzel & Vannest (2008), Roschelle, Pea, Hoadley, Gordin, & Means (2000), Clariana, Koul & Salehi (2006), and others, regarding the necessity and the potential, or confirmed, efficiency of the computer-based technologies in educational testing and assessment procedures. Despite all the controversy about the pros and cons of the computer technology in education, almost all the scholars mentioned agree on the following argument expressed by Roschelle, Pea, Hoadley, Gordin, & Means (2000): “Research indicates that computer technology can help support learning, and that it is especially useful in developing the higher-order skills of critical thinking, analysis, and scientific inquiry” (p. 76). Thus, the role of computer-based technology in education should be considered from the position that computers can benefit this sphere of the human activity substantially.
Computer-Based Technology in Education
First of all, scholars including Bicanich, Slivinski, Hardwicke & Kapes (1997), Calhoon, Fuchs & Hamlett (2000), Mechling, Gast & Langone (2002), etc., view the introduction of computers in education as the step towards speeding up the processes of teaching and learning. It is made possible through the use of various teaching aids including visualizations, video pieces, etc. that contribute to both increasing students’ interest in the matter of study and make their cognitive processes faster and more efficient:
In support of computer -delivered reading accommodations, research (e.g., Bottge & Hasselbring, 1993; Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1990, 1991a, 1991b) has shown positive effects of video- based instructional programs that provide motivating and realistic contexts for mathematics problem solving and reasoning (Calhoon, Fuchs & Hamlett, 2000, p. 271).
Although concerned mainly with the use of computer-based programs in mathematical studies, the ideas by Calhoon, Fuchs & Hamlett (2000) can be easily applied for other educational areas.
Thus, Roschelle, Pea, Hoadley, Gordin, & Means (2000) argue about the positive effects of the Microcomputer-Based Laboratory (MBL) on students’ academic performance as numerous studies show:
For example, one study of 125 seventh and eighth graders found that use of MBL software resulted in an 81% gain in the students’ ability to interpret and use graphs. In another study of 249 eighth graders, experience with MBL was found to produce significant gains in the students’ ability to identify some of the reasons why graphs may be inaccurate (p. 76).
In this respect, other scholars, including Bicanich, Slivinski, Hardwicke & Kapes (1997), Clariana, Koul & Salehi (2006) and Mechling, Gast & Langone (2002), also see the potential for the further development of the computer introduction into the educational system of the USA and other countries: “Incorporation of computer-based instruction can further provide independent practice; high interest; motoric accessibility; and immediate error correction” ( Mechling, Gast & Langone, 2002, p. 224). Guided by the previous works by Watkins, Sprafkin, & Krolikowski (1990), Bull, Cochran, & Snell (1988), Rieth, Bahr, Okolo, Polsgrove, & Eckert (1988), etc., the authors see the main use of computer-based technology in the potential increase of the students’ literacy and cognitive abilities.
Moreover, Roschelle, Pea, Hoadley, Gordin, & Means (2000) exemplify their argument about the importance of the computer technology for educational modernization by applying to the numerous studies their colleagues carried out previously: “In contrast, a meta-analysis of more than 500 research studies of computer-based instruction found positive effects on student achievement tests resulted primarily from computer tutoring applications” (p. 76). These ideas prove that the implementation of the computer-based technology for tutoring, instructing, motivating, and finally teaching students is beneficial for both students and teachers. The former obtain the opportunity of the faster and more convenient access to the curriculum information, while the latter can save effort and time with the simultaneous gaining in efficiency of their courses:
In other words, it may be possible to embed learning aids, such as relaxation-imagery guidance, in computer-based learning (CBL) in a way that would both minimize direct training and make reminding the learners to practice them more seamless (Macaulay 2002, p. 305).
As Macaulay (2002) argues, the relief that students and teachers can obtain from the wider application of the computer-based technology is obvious. It also allows speaking about the possibility to use those technologies for testing and assessment procedures in academia. Moreover, numerous attempts have already been made to implement computer-based testing systems and programs in the educational structure of the United States.
Based on this, Van Horn (2003) admits the inevitability of such a progress and sees the future of education in its computerization: “Indeed, I predict that computer adaptive tests will quickly become routine in schools, especially since they provide the ability to carefully monitor student progress from month to month and term to term” (Van Horn, 2003, p. 567). Although displaying numerous positive features and disadvantages, these computerized tests deserve serious consideration as the means by which the technological progress attempts to modernize education. In this respect, the variety of the computer-based or computer adaptive tests should be examined in their essence and efficiency, with special attention paid to the participants of those tests and the sampling errors.
To begin with, there are computer-based testing systems and software developed for testing teachers’ performance and making the teachers’ work easier, and for evaluating the efficiency of study and cognitive abilities in students. Among the former, the so-called CR condition questionnaire can be mentioned as a tool to assess students’ attitude towards the relation between the teachers’ performance and the same operations carried out by computer readers. CR condition questionnaire consists of a set of questions among which the following two, questions 10 and 11, demonstrate the attitudes of students towards studying via computer technologies: “”Having a computer read the story, charts, and questions helped me understand this math problem-solving activity.” and “I liked it that none of the other students knew when I asked the computer to reread the story, charts, and questions for me.”” (Calhoon, Fuchs & Hamlett, 2000, p. 271).
As presented in the article by Calhoon, Fuchs & Hamlett (2000), the CR condition questionnaire was tested in an experiment in which “the mean for Question #10 was 2.95 (SD = 1.60)”, while “Question #11 asked, A frequency count showed that 34.6% of the students classified this statement as “not true”; 17.3% as “a little true”; 17.3% as “kinda true”; 13.6% as “mostly true”; and 17.3% as “always true” (Calhoon, Fuchs & Hamlett, 2000, p. 271). Moreover, the correlation between the students’ scores in the questionnaire and the above mean for the questions amounted to.04. The experiment resulted with no surprising outcomes, showing that the majority of students support computer technology and the advantages they bring: “A total of 65.50% of the students reported liking to some degree the anonymity provided by the computer when it came to rereading” (Calhoon, Fuchs & Hamlett, 2000, p. 271). This computer-based program can be viewed as the assistance to both students and teachers and a perfect means to assess the performance of both.
Moreover, the so-called ThinkerTools software is another computerized means of testing the cognitive abilities of students and the teaching performance of instructors. Also, this software package provides a substantial motivation to students for it uses visual aids much and allows students to put the knowledge in their personal context through questions:
Newtonian mechanics to real-world situations: the middle schoolers averaged 68% correct answers on a six-item, multiple-choice test, compared with 50% for the high school physics students. Researchers concluded that the use of the ThinkerTools software appeared to make science interesting and accessible to a wider range of students than was possible with more traditional approaches. (Roschelle, Pea, Hoadley, Gordin, & Means, 2000, p. 76)
The same point is held by Macaulay (2002), who considers not a particular test but the computer-based technology on the whole as compared to the traditional written or oral tests used. During the research taken up by Macaulay (2002), 30 respondents were involved in the testing of various, though unnamed, computer-based tests and assessment software programs. The respondents included 21 males and 9 females aging from 18 to 41, who were divided into a control and an experimental group of 15 people each (Macaulay 2002, p. 305). The purpose of the experiment was to test the computer-based assessment tools, and as the result, “the highest scorer in the control group scored (41.67) higher than 4 subjects did in the experimental group” (Macaulay 2002, p. 305). Based on these result, Macaulay (2002) concludes that computer programs and test benefit their participant more that traditional testing and assessment means.
Computer adaptive tests (CAT) constitute another type of the technology under consideration. As Van Horn (2003) argues, these tests are the step forward to the objective and non-biased assessment. Although having certain disadvantages connected with the specificity of the computer equipment and potential software breakdowns, CAT test have the set of advantages as well:
When a CAT test is given regularly, individual student progress can be charted and evaluated. That is, you do not have to wait until you give the state achievement test in late spring to find out if a student is making progress (Van Horn, 2003, p. 567).
Moreover, the positive sides of the CAT test include such opportunities as presenting literally each student with a unique test matching his or her abilities and requirements, which eliminates the issue of cheating as such because there are no two similar test existing. Also, the CAT tests results are received in several seconds, which also makes it impossible to cheat the results or confuse the records of different persons. The CAT tests are not limited in the sense of participants, and the system of CAT presupposes taking the test on the regular basis to view the progress, if any, in a student’s performance (Van Horn, 2003, p. 567).
As contrasted, Roever (2001) views the computed-based tests, or CBTs as this authors calls them, in comparison to the web-based tests, WBTs. The major difference between the two is the usage of the Internet for testing procedures: “Simply defined, a Web- based language test (WBT) is a computed-based language test which is delivered via the World Wide Web (WWW)”(Roever, 2001, p. 84). Irrespective of its language specificity, the WBT is a bright example of the efficient computer-based software. One of the advantages the author singles out in this test is that it allows assessing almost any activity that can be observed in the process of learning. Moreover, the students can obtain counseling, or feedback, on any of the above mentioned processes and their performance in them. Thus, WBT “provides [students] with a gauge of how close they are to reaching a pre-specified learning goal” (Roever, 84). Irrespective of the possible technical drawbacks connected with the software breakdowns or lack of computer operation skills of the users, the WBTs are viewed as the potentially most widely used computer-based testing programs in education.
Further on, the debate among scholars also touches the assessment tools based on certain computer software components. The need for such tool obviously arises from the recent changes in the social situation. In more detail, the recent surveys by scholars like Bicanich, Slivinski, Hardwicke, & Kapes (1997), Clariana, Koul, & Salehi (2006), and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show that the educational system involves less and less people:
Content area assessments of the high stakes variety are a driving force in how students are instructed in classrooms yet proficiency in science continues to be below expectation when only 29 percent of 4th- and 8th-graders reached proficiency, and 12th grade proficiency dropped to 18% on the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) (Adiguzel & Vannest, 2008, p. 127)
This situation is rather dangerous as far as the society loses its intellectual potential with the loss of the young people pursuing elementary and higher education. Drawing from this, the need arises for the educational authorities to monitor the situation, especially among those young people who still take their time to study. Assessing the cognitive abilities and study motivations of these people will, with the great degree of probability, demonstrate the reasons for such a decrease in the average educational proficiency of the American citizens.
Respectively, numerous instruments and tools are developed by scholars to carry out such assessments. Among these tools, there are numerous effective and experimentally tried ones that provide teachers with the adequate data on the performance of their students and, respectively, on the efficiency of their work. For example, “a program called Diagnoser assesses students’ understanding of physics concepts in situations where students typically make mistakes, then provides teachers with suggested remedial activities” (Roschelle, Pea, Hoadley, Gordin, & Means, 2000, p. 76) The research by Roschelle, Pea, Hoadley, Gordin, & Means (2000) also shows that this assessment tool is effective.
The academic performance of the students of the teachers that took part in the Diagnoser assessment procedure was on the rise, irrespective of the previous scores the students demonstrated: “Data from experimental and control classrooms showed scores rising more than 15% when teachers incorporated use of Diagnoser, and the results were equally strong for low, middle, and high achievers” (Roschelle, Pea, Hoadley, Gordin, & Means, 2000, p. 76). Based on this data, it can be observed that the computer-based assessment instruments, including Diagnoser, bring effectiveness and performance facilitation to the class. The same can be said about another assessment tool, the SimCalc Project.
The major purpose of this assessment instrument is the demonstration of the fact that “computers can help middle school students in some of the most challenging urban settings to learn calculus concepts such as rate, accumulation, limit, and mean value” (Roschelle, Pea, Hoadley, Gordin, & Means, 2000, p. 76). The problem it is designed to solve is the low performance of inner-city middle-schools students in mathematics and calculus, and the results of the experiment carried out with the help of the SimCalc Project “showed that through exposure to SimCalc, inner-city middle school students increased their percentage of correct responses from only about 15% to 90% or more in a few months, whereas only 30% to 40% of college-level students answered some of these same items correctly” (Roschelle, Pea, Hoadley, Gordin, & Means, 2000, p. 76). Although in a single subject of the school curriculum, but the assessment tool manifested its efficiency and ability to be applied for other subjects.
However, the major outcome of the experiment reported by Roschelle, Pea, Hoadley, Gordin, & Means (2000) was the obtaining of another proof of the fact that computer-based technologies bring benefits to the educational system rather than damage it: “As the availability of computer technology continues to improve, its integration into a course not only as a data analytic tool, but as a medium for the illustration of statistical and probabilistic concepts becomes essential” (Cabilio & Farrell, 2001, p. 228). The objective reality is thus viewed by scholars mentioned as the one demanding the constant work on the modernization of the educational system on the whole and the area of testing and assessment as its integral part. As far as numerous research works and surveys demonstrate the actual benefit that teachers and students might obtain from the implementation of the computer-based testing and assessment programs, it would be wrong to ignore such a chance for educational modernization. Moreover, there are numerous students participating in the experiments monitoring the efficiency of the computer-based testing and assessment support the latter as the innovation that makes their study more comfortable and their academic performance better. All these factors manifest the universally supported necessity of the implementation of the computer-based testing and assessment programs.
Education, especially during the current information age, is the most powerful instrument that people might use to earn their living and progress in various directions including, politics, economy, technology, etc. Numerous testing and assessment systems have been created by scholars to measure the efficiency of education, but the bulk of them were the written or oral tests. The modern informational era demands modernization of the spheres of the social life, and education achieve this through the implementation of the computer-based testing and assessment programs. The latter allow the educators both to test the efficiency of their work and monitor the progress of their students’ cognitive abilities and knowledge bases. Scholars have proved the effectiveness of the computer-based testing and assessment programs by their numerous research works and experiments. The data obtained from the latter allow making the conclusion that the future of educational testing and assessment is in its computerization and modernization.
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