May 23, 2019

Why an online version of the MCAS exam is counterproductive

Massachusetts students begin computer-based standardized testing, moving away from the previous handwritten, paper method.

This year, students are taking the state-wide MCAS exam on a new computer-based format, instead of the test’s previous print version. The online format entails downloading the Pearson application on their laptop and attending an hour long test run of the program. The high school mandated this session so that students could learn about the way that the test will operate, as well as troubleshoot any technological problems.

The online version of the test creates more issues than it fixes and therefore is a counterproductive alternative to the paper version of the test.

The change to an online format sparked annoyance from students taking the test because it created many technological problems. Specifically, students were required to completely close all other running applications. While this may not have been a problem for some, it forced certain students to close out of applications they were using. One student taking the exam was concerned that she would lose her work on her internet browser if she closed the application. Other technology issues came up as students were forced to disable Siri on their Apple laptops in order to begin the assessment. Some students did not charge their laptops, and they were required to borrow loaners from the Technology department. Other students received alerts on their laptop claiming there was a problem with the application. These students could not ignore the message and had to wait for help from the Technology department. These issues affected the test-taking process because it not only took time away from testing, but it added a lot of stress to the proctors. Even though students were allowed as much time as they needed to complete the test, it is an inconvenience to the student to take extra time and miss class. These issues were nonexistent on the exam’s paper format.

Another issue with the online format was that it required all sophomore students to come to school at 7:30 in order to do a test run with the assessment. If that did not draw enough ire from students, the early start coupled with the technology issues gave students a lot less time to take the test. Because these issues took so much time, students were required to come to school early, yet run out of time before they could finish the assessment.

Some people believe that the hour-long session was necessary in order to fix any issues with the application before the actual testing day. While this is a valid argument, the paper version did not present any of these issues.

It should also be noted that writing your thoughts out on paper helps people learn better as opposed to typing on a laptop. The online format of the MCAS test eliminates this benefit. According to an article from Scientific American, a group of individuals was allowed to take notes either by hand or on technology as part of a study. They were allowed to study the information from their notes over the course of a week in preparation for the test. Those who took their notes on paper fared better on the test than those who took their notes on a device. If the MCAS exams are supposed to measure the best work a student can demonstrate, it should be administered on paper.

According to an article from, people usually concentrate and interpret the material in longer texts better when they are read on paper and not on a screen. This is because electronic reading only allows us to see portions of the text at a time. Also, the screen size is obviously predetermined, which generally gives less space to read from, whereas a book generally has a larger area. According to the source, it is also more comfortable to write notes on paper because the margins are either larger or more clearly defined.

This same source also states that because a piece of technology always has the same shape, it does not grasp one’s attention as fully as a book. Books, of course, vary in size and shape, which can attract one’s attention better.

Given all of this information, clearly, the MCAS assessments should be kept in its original paper format so students can show their best work.

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