Is the Pen Mightier Than the Cord?

“How do you fail an online test? You can cheat!” It’s a phrase I’ve heard multiple times from people I work with, and it never fails to surprise me. Firstly, you don’t need to cheat on a test with open notes…it’s already open notes! Secondly, how would you fail an online exam? I’m a fairly good test-taker, but most people aren’t. If it was hard for them to concentrate in class, then, of course, it’s going to be even harder to concentrate at home without any sort of real learning environment, motivation, or moderator.  

zoom call with friends Photo by Gabriel Benois from Unsplash

           Many schools implemented online testing before COVID was even a problem, and the students using this method fell behind their peers. According to a study in Massachusetts, online test scores in math and English language arts appeared to show a regression in learning in general. Even when students were familiar with the testing methods and saw improved scores, they still lagged behind those taking paper tests. This study was for high school students, so is there a difference between those in primary and secondary education?

Maybe not, especially because those impacted by online tests are those who need accommodations on regular tests as well. The Massachusetts study showed that the gap between high and low performing students is increased with online testing. Now, however, there is a disparity with online learning as well as testing. Students with learning disabilities, visual and auditory impairments, and attention disorders are more affected now than ever. Also, low-income families do not always have computer access, or if they do have a computer, they only have one that must be shared between multiple children. Other families don’t have WIFI in their home, but can’t enter businesses with WIFI due to restrictions. So, if these students don’t have the ability to access learning material, they are automatically impaired on tests.

Now, that isn’t to say that many college students aren’t excelling in a virtual setting. Many other studies, such as one done in 2002 by Roy Clariana and Patricia Wallace, have shown that online assessments can be accurate in methods of assessing the memorization and/or application of knowledge for students in secondary education. Some students who are “higher-able” and have taken online tests, standardized tests or a mix of both do much better on online tests. But, it really should be based on each student, not the general student population.

group studying Photo by Marvin Meyer from Unsplash

The main idea here is that there should be many options for students, as online testing is not beneficial for everyone. I am a good test-taker, but if I wasn’t, I’m certain that I would be underperforming in virtual classes. Students who need accommodations and students with low incomes need multiple options for testing, whether they are in primary or secondary education. High school students aren’t performing well on core subjects when tested online, and if the trend of distance learning continues, there may only be a slight increase in their performance. These students are looking at a future of education based on online assessments and testing, which may be advancing technology, but may not be advancing education.  

Online testing isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t necessarily better, even if you can “cheat.”