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Are clickers a solution to high-stakes headaches?

Triton Data Collection System offers a new take on clickers and online assessments

clicker-assessmentsOne of the many concerns that school IT leaders have about the shift to online assessments is whether they’ll have enough computers and bandwidth for students to take high-stakes exams—and the steep costs this would involve. Now, one company is working on a solution that would let students take high-stakes tests using less expensive “clicker” technology, which raises the question: Are student response systems a viable way to test students?

Turning Technologies of Youngstown, Ohio, has developed the Triton Data Collection System, a personal response system designed to support high-stakes assessments in a secure manner, with little or no internet connection required.

Here’s how it works: A handheld clicker takes the place of traditional paper answer forms. Questions are still delivered on paper, and students can use this paper to work out answers to math problems or make notes.

The Triton Data Collection System features Triton Web, a web-based interface to help administrators create and control tests; Triton Receiver (with proctor software) to deliver the tests; and ResponseCard NXT, which students use to answer the test questions. Responses go to the proctoring software, which then sends them to Triton Web.

Data are transferred from the student response systems to the receiver using radio frequency technology, which is a useful alternative to sometimes unreliable internet connections during testing, Turning Technologies says. Answers can be sent to the receiver or server at a later date if there are connection problems during testing.

The test responses are backed up in triplicate, the company says: They are simultaneously stored and encrypted on the clicker, the receiver, and—if an internet connection is available—on Triton Web. All clickers and receivers have a unique ID that is visibly printed on the device, as well as stored electronically, to make the data more traceable.

(Next page: Michigan pilots clickers with assessments)
Triton supports multiple test versions and question types, according to the company. The software notifies users of skipped questions with a direct link back to these questions, and a timer displays on each device with a “pencils down” stop functionality. Administrators can set up the testing with customizable rules using the Triton Web interface.

In a first-of-its-kind program, the Michigan Department of Education partnered with the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals last year to pilot the Triton system on the ACT Explore, which the state uses with eighth- or ninth-grade students to test academic readiness, said Bruce Umpstead of the state’s Office of Educational Technology and Data Coordination. A one-year pilot program took place with 8,000 students using the Triton system.

Umpstead said the response from local schools was extremely positive. At first, he said, he was skeptical that a clicker company could make a move into high-stakes assessments. But one of the most positive things about the pilot, he said, was the effort that went into preparing the state’s teachers.

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“First, Turning Technologies simplified the one-click interface. … Second, the training focused on the teacher and increasing the comfort level for deploying the clickers and assessments,” he said. “The built-in troubleshooting really alleviated educators’ concerns.”

Participating students reportedly had no trouble at all.

“The students? They were excited,” Umpstead said. “In the classrooms I visited, the students were saying things like, ‘Cool—I get to text my test!’”

Triton has “become the icon of where we feel testing could go,” said Tina Rooks, senior vice president and chief information officer at Turning Technologies. The company says it examined the high-stakes testing field and noted that tests were delivered on paper or online, but both methods presented issues with equipment, bandwidth, and security.

That’s where the idea for Triton formed: What if a bubble answer sheet could be replaced by a clicker with multi-purpose functionality, serving as a high-stakes assessment device but also as a year-round formative assessment device?

“It truly wipes out bubble sheets,” Rooks said, adding that all pilots have shown zero data loss.

Currently, the Triton system can accommodate multiple choice, matching, fill-in-the-blank, and short response items. Essay functionality is forthcoming, Rooks said—and it will be necessary as states move toward Common Core testing that measures more complex skills.

Turning Technologies has conducted approximately 200 pilots with Triton, and Rooks said the company is in discussions with several states that have experienced significant testing problems in the past.

“What you don’t want to fail is collecting that data,” Rooks said. “There are people who say clickers won’t work in high-stakes assessments, and I would agree with that—the average clicker won’t work. This isn’t your average clicker.”

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Laura Ascione

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