A few weeks ago as the school year was coming to an end I was tearing my hair out. The National Tests in English had just finished and my organised desk was now hidden under a pile of marking.
In Sweden there is no external examination board so, while end of year exams are compiled and distributed by a central authority (Skolverket), they are administered and assessed by the schools.
This mountain of marking needed a quick turnaround in order to work with calibration of the tests and then the entering of test results on our School Soft system. What should have been a time to socialise more with students during sports day and other school related activity days became a bit of a struggle.
The timing of the tests did not help the situation. With only a few lessons left before term ended, I could ill afford to claim the time off us English teachers are offered for marking these tests.
This situation, one being enacted all over the land, had me reflect on ways which could alleviate the strain on teachers.
External invigilation? External marking? Tests that mark themselves?
Notwithstanding the establishment of an external examination board, there are some interesting ways schools can manage the assessment of national tests.
Is the marking and invigilation of National Tests a good use of teacher time?
As a department we discussed the possibility of having National Tests assessed externally. Could trainee or freelance teachers be employed to this end? Our discussion also considered the value of the current system, having class teachers assess the national tests, after all we are expected to prepare students for this assessment.
The internal calibration of National Tests in writing amongst members of our English department is one of the most valuable meetings I attend during the year and this year some of us also met with teachers from other Stockholm schools. This added greater value by giving us insight into how other teachers are marking. It also gave us reassurance that we were indeed assessing in a similar manner. For me personally, it was interesting to hear that one school is working with DigiExam.
DigiExam (as the name suggests) sees all students write their assessments, including the National Tests, on a computer. The program closes access to spellcheck and web browsers thus limiting the obvious advantages students may gain from writing on a laptop. Students write their texts in a manner more adapted to their lifestyles and the world they are living in, teachers no longer have to struggle with the deciphering of handwriting or the unpicking of changes to structure and afterthoughts. This along with the distribution (sometimes photocopying) and collection of tests are clear advantages for working in this way.
The listening and reading tests also largely include multiple choice style questions and I can imagine that such marking would be more efficient (perhaps even automated) in DigiExam.
DigiExam is not free and there are added costs to using it: each student sitting the test would require access to a computer (the trend of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is one I will return to in a later blogpost) and the school would have to have a well functioning network.
Perhaps extending its use to an entire year group’s National Tests is over ambitious at this stage, but as we aim to prepare students for life beyond school and with teachers asking for more efficient means of marking, it is certainly worth exploring.
Do you have experience of working with DigiExam or other online means of marking? How has this worked for you and your school? I would love to hear your views on this topic.