It’s not easy out there: state and local school district budgets continue to decline due to the recession, and federal aid to states is slated to expire before state revenues recover. In fact, cuts have been enacted this year affecting K-12 in 33 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C.
In response to these fiscal limitations, some school districts are applying new technology to increase teacher and administrative productivity. In June 2009, Michel Richez, director of technology and information services for the Long Beach Public Schools district in New York, oversaw the launch of a pilot program to reduce the amount of time teachers spend scoring New York State student assessments. Using Optimum Solutions Corporation’s (OSC) Educational Assessment Scoring Environment (EASE), Long Beach teachers electronically scored the constructive responses and essays for 300 eighth-grade social studies exams in a few hours, compared with a day or more under the previous scoring process. In doing so, these schools became the first in the state to use any form of electronic scoring system in standardized testing programs.
“[The EASE] system expedites and increases the accuracy of scoring, reducing district costs for hiring substitute teachers and keeping teachers in the classroom educating their students,” said Richez.
The process involves scanning student test booklets and uploading images of their responses into the EASE scoring software. Scorers view the images online and assign scores electronically, reducing paper shuffling and teacher distractions. The images are then stored and are retrievable using electronic archiving. (Multiple choice and short-answer responses are still scored using traditional methods, as per New York State DOE regulations.) The EASE system has four key components: a scoring environment that facilitates faster test scoring; a workflow interface for that assists in managing the scoring process; OSC’s proprietary Closed End Mark Sense Processing software; and embedded data cleaning, formatting and reporting C-type programming language that allows for user customization.
The pilot project went so well that in November of that year it was expanded to include the Nassau Board Of Cooperative Educational Services of Nassau County (Nassau BOCES), which serves the county’s 56 school districts on Long Island, providing shared services, career training for high school students, special ed, alternative schools and teacher training. Nassau BOCES then partnered with 14 other districts to score 5,000 fifth-grade social studies exams. In May 2010, the program was expanded once again, to score several thousand English Language Arts (ELA) and math exams for grades 3 through 8.
“The application of the EASE system to the ELA and math tests represented a big shift in terms of scale after using it on the social studies tests the previous year,” said Richez. The increase in scale didn’t slow EASE down, he added, noting that, once a combination of BOCES and OSC personnel had scanned the test papers in, Web-based EASE made the data available via the Internet so that the scoring could be done by teachers in their own schools.
“Ultimately, I‘m hoping we move into electronic scoring throughout New York State using EASE as the resource for local districts,” he concluded. “It’s a much more focused and effective way to get scoring accomplished.”