Computer interface on MCAS poses obstacles for students

Regarding the drop in scores on the state’s redesigned MCAS tests: Elementary students are scoring lower on tests because they are taken on a computer. This is especially true for third-graders on the essay portion, where we measure two things at once — their ability to compose and their ability to type. I’ve seen students with three or four paragraphs written on their scrap paper run out of time trying to type on the computer. What does the test truly measure?

Students also are handicapped in computerized tests by years of conditioning playing computer and video games, where speed is of the essence. How many zombies you can kill per second doesn’t transfer well when taking a multiple-choice test. Teachers may well warn students to take their time, and then announce the test’s start and end times, including a 10-minute warning to finish up. (I have given the same multiple-choice test to students on paper and on computer, with very different results, favoring paper.)

The solution to these problems has been intensive typing lessons and repeated practice testing in the computer labs, a malpractice that takes time away from research and presentation skills — high-level-thinking skills that the new test supposedly measures.


Do we try to measure everything, and yet know the value of nothing?

Gerard T. Hall

North Chelmsford

The writer is a retired elementary school computer teacher.