Spell-check use on writing exam prompts debate

The Oregon Department of Education is analyzing the data to determine what accounts for the discrepancies, but reports from schools around the state show that students were less likely to pass the online version of the test last year.

The tests used the same prompts and were identical, and the test scorers are trained to read both handwritten and typed essays.

One theory is that students taking the online version of the writing test are skipping a crucial proofreading step. Those taking the paper-based exam compose their essays first and then copy the completed version into an official test booklet—an action that helps students review their work.

Officials worry that the online test might cause students to focus more on keyboarding than on things such as word choice, sentence structure, and critical-thinking skills.

Students also said they said they struggled with proofreading their work on-screen instead of printing out their work and editing it by hand. Enabling the spell-check feature could alleviate this problem, officials say.

Spelling is still important, the state education department spokeswoman said, but officials want to make sure it doesn’t detract from other, higher-order thinking skills. The department’s goal “is for the Oregon state tests to accurately predict how prepared students are for college and careers,” she concluded.

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