Before this year, grading the standardized tests taken by students as part of the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) was a decidedly hands-on assignment.

Teachers from the state packed up for sessions at the test publisher’s offices in California and Indiana, ready to wade through stacks of the actual test booklets filled out by students.

It made for quite a hassle.

“You’re talking many, many pallets [of test booklets] being trucked around, huge mailing and shipping bills, huge bills for temporary staff to move this stuff in and out, and a huge headache in terms of keeping track of it all,” said Randy Bennett, who works in research and development at Educational Testing Service (ETS), which publishes the SAT, Graduate Record Examination, and other national tests.

This year, 24 Missouri teachers on June 11 began grading online some of the MAP tests taken by about half a million students this spring. Rather than travel across the country to read a test booklet filled out in Missouri, they’ll stay in the state and grade the tests from home or school using a secure internet connection.

“I think it’s going to be awesome,” said Anne Benson, a fourth-grade teacher at Brennan Woods Elementary School in Jefferson County.

The tests to be graded online have been scanned from the original test booklets and turned into a set of images, with answers still in a student’s own handwriting, that can be stored on a computer.

After reading the tests online and recording a score, teachers will transmit the results to CTB/McGraw-Hill, the test publisher, where all the scores and results will be tabulated. The results will be available to school districts in August.

The 24 teachers grading online won’t see all, or even most, of the MAP exams. Most of the scoring is still being done by CTB/McGraw-Hill scorers. But if this online grading session works well, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education wants to expand the electronic scoring to include more teachers.

“As far as I know, the Missouri approach really is a unique one throughout the country,” said Michael Kean, a vice president at CTB/McGraw-Hill. “I wouldn’t be surprised if other states try to emulate it.”

The teachers grading online will score tests from across Missouri, but they won’t have any way of identifying the children or their schools.

“Part of improving instruction is having teachers have a good feel for what high-quality and low-quality work look like,” said Judy Arter, national training director at the Assessment Training Institute in Oregon.

Scoring lots of exams from across the state will do just that, Arter said.

“How could it not improve how I teach?” Benson, the teacher from Jefferson County, said. “I can only be better when I see what’s out there.”

The pilot project has three main goals: One, to get more Missouri teachers involved in grading the exams. Missouri education officials hope that teachers will have more confidence in the test if their colleagues are involved in the grading. Two, to get results back to school districts faster. And three, to save the state money.

“Once you make it electronic, a lot of these [logistical] problems go away,” said ETS’s Bennett of the scoring process. Bennett said ETS grades several of its exams over the internet and has done so for years.

Links:

Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
http://services.dese.state.mo.us

CTB/McGraw-Hill
http://www.ctb.com

Educational Testing Service
http://www.ets.org

Assessment Training Institute
http://www.assessmentinst.com