A Lost Opportunity
About 3 min reading time
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There's a testing method that seems to be found in two places these days. My parents' generation would definitely recognize it. In fact, it was probably revolutionary at the time. "No more grading by hand!" seems a likely sales pitch. I'm talking about those damn circles that require a number 2 pencil. The glorious, wonderful, piece of shit Scantron test.
The two places they're ever really found these days is in standardized testing and RIT's IT department. The SATs and other state tests use them for efficiency of grading, which I suppose is a reasonable use case. Testing at that scale is difficult, I imagine. As for why RIT (and presumably other colleges) still use them, I have no explanation. RIT pays for online course software which includes the ability to administer tests and quizzes. They can even be configured so students are required to be in specific computer labs to take them. If they're aiming for efficiency, why bother using paper? Just configure the online exam and let the computer grade for you instantly.
Regardless of the use case, I would argue that Scantron testing is the worst form of testing any educator could decide to use. There is one simple reason for this: Lack of feedback. I fill in a bunch of bubbles that get read by a machine and I earn my number. That's where the feedback stops.
Take my Network Fundamentals midterm, for example. I filled in 116 little bubbles in an hour and a half (is that part of the fun?), and was given my grade a couple days later. My professor insists we will receive our answer sheets at some point, as well. We will not, however, be handed a copy of the test (because, you know, I have nothing better to do but redistribute your test). But without the context provided each of those bubbles by my test, they're nothing more than completely filled (not X'd!), dots on a sheet of paper. They aren't even useful dots like Braille; they're just dots.
Without any context, my answer sheet represents nothing. I can't discern any information from it and I've lost a possible learning opportunity.
Let's think about this for a minute. For every wrong answer on that sheet, the correct answer isn't marked, and if it were it would be nothing more than an extra dot. This lack of feedback is what drives many students to be afraid of being wrong and thus afraid of trying. The test they end up taking doesn't tell them anything about why they were wrong or how they could be right. All it says is "you filled in the wrong bubbles." With this mentality, tests becoming about being correct, instead of about learning. But wait, the whole point of education - the entire reason I'm immersing myself in a large amount of debt - is to learn something. Isn't it?
I think that's why I enjoyed writing so much throughout school, and still to this day. When I write an essay, I'm given feedback. I can take that feedback, process it, and improve the next time around. With a Scantron? Not a chance. Let's be honest, it would take too much time to go over 116 questions and explain why the correct answer is correct to an entire class, let alone on an individual basis.
But let's consider the online software. It's possible to allow students to see the answer key after they've submitted answers, with their incorrect answers right there. Even this basic feedback is far superior to the Scantron because they get something. With an electronic test, they can at least see the correct answer and attempt to figure it out, even if they can't get individualized feedback. Or, they can ask specific questions about the content and approach their professor with them. Student can't do that with a paper test they won't receive after taking it.
So, the real question: Why? Why on Earth do we still use this now-draconian method of testing? A test shouldn't just be about being right or wrong. A test is a learning opportunity. Life presents tests to people all the time, but you don't die just for getting a couple things wrong. You recover and give it another go next time. In other words: you live and learn.
I'd like to think we're better than this. As a species, we've sent satellites outside of our own solar system, and you mean to tell me no one can decide on a better testing method than a useless sheet of dots? I refuse to believe that.
The frustrating part of the test isn't that I got some questions wrong; it's that any opportunity of learning from it has been taken away from me by the very nature of the test. Scantron tests aren't helping me learn. They're simply not education. But that's what I'm paying for. That what tax payers pay for in every community in America. Isn't it?