Computerized Testing Profits Teachers And VARs

Don’t get left behind in the growing opportunity that computerized testing solut

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Education VARs and developers of computerized testing solutions hope the No Child Left Behind Act, signed by President George W. Bush more than a year ago, will do for the K-12 market what HIPAA did for the health-care industry: mobilize these industries toward computer-based records-keeping.

The law mandates that every state must set standards for what students in each grade should know and be able to do in the subjects of reading, math and science, and that schools measure students' progress through testing.

"Schools, school districts and states know they're going to have to report results at the federal level," says Eric Shepherd, president of Stamford, Conn.-based Questionmark, a developer of testing and assessment software for corporations and educational institutions. "Web-based testing is the most efficient way to collect data."

A number of states already have completed successful pilot programs, which other states are scrutinizing, industry executives say.

"There is a growing interest in computer-based testing and acknowledgment of the value it can bring to the K-12 arena," says Richard Swartz, executive director of product development and research applications at Educational Testing Service (ETS). "That is done, in part, by increased access to hardware in schools and also some successful pilots in states,Indiana, for example."

Cost is part of it. "To grade an average test costs $17, $20, $25," Shepherd says. "To do it with a computer costs maybe $1."

And instead of taking days to grade, computerized solutions can grade tests, including essays, in minutes, industry experts note.

Some testing companies already are partnering with solution providers to integrate assessment solutions, provide support and write custom software.

"A lot of [assessment tools] are very general-purpose," says Jim Ries, a partner in EngiNet Technologies, a Columbia, Mo.-based systems integrator that wrote custom code for an assessment solution for Indiana high-school students. "There's a real opportunity to customize these tools and focus them on the objectives that people are just waking up to."

The Adrenaline Group, which is designing and developing New York-based Triumph Learning's computer-based testing materials, also has seen increased interest in online testing.

"As people have figured out exactly what Internet testing can do and what its limits are, there's definitely a trend to use these applications to augment their existing solutions," says Wayne Bovier, senior vice president of the Arlington, Va.-based custom software developer.

That represents an opportunity for VARs, integrators and software developers to work with assessment organizations.

"Doing high-stakes assessment on a large scale is an expensive proposition, and there are a lot of pieces that have to be put in place," says Randy Bennett, an online assessment expert at ETS, Princeton, N.J. "It takes a combination of skills."

Converting to a computer-based testing mode can be very painful, particularly financially. However, the federal government last year allotted $387 million to help states develop and administer reading and math tests, and this year's budget includes a similar amount. Those dollars go toward connectivity, computer hardware, staff training, the logistics for testing hundreds and thousands of students, security and dependability issues, Bennett says.

Although some states' efforts are further along than others, all 50 states must eventually comply. And the role of VARs in installing, servicing and supporting computer-based testing solutions is only expected to rise to meet the expanding opportunities.

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