Saturday, April 14, 2012

Writing Exams? Who does that anymore?

In the previous post our students' reflections expressed a changed attitude to writing attributed largely to the mechanics of writing being so much more satisfying when the writing tool is a keyboard rather than a pen/pencil. These reflections have been backed up by the Manaiakalani Evaluation report for 2011 released by Colleen Gleeson.  She noted significant changes in student engagement and motivation, and the asTTle writing test scores of students had improved.

We have just completed the first term of the 2012 school year and increasing numbers of our Manaiakalani students are using their own netbooks - including the entire cohort of students at Tamaki College.

What does the immediate education future for these young people hold?  They prefer writing using a digital device and have a changed attitude towards writing.  They feel their writing has improved and the evaluation evidence supports this.

Nevertheless, many of these young people still have to sit exams and tests using pencil and paper, particularly for NCEA. It is not so bad for the younger students who are doing e-asTTle tests, which can be done online.  They will be tested using the tools they are familiar with.

But our Year 11-13 students have to face up to 3 hours at a time of handwriting 'high stakes' exams on paper booklets.  Is this a bit like asking kids to sit their drivers license using a horse and cart - it shouldn't matter because they would be covering the same content and route, just using a different mode of transport?

What are our private schools and high decile schools who have been 1:1 for up to a decade doing about this?  Is this just a transition period and if so, how long will we be going through it?

60 of our 2012 Year 9 students were in the Manaiakalani pilot classes for 1:1 in 2010.  They will be sitting Level One NCEA in 2014 after using a Netbook as their major learning tool for five years.  How will writing answers using pen in a booklet  allow them to express their true understanding of the questions being asked?

I do hope that the folk at NZQA are getting this sorted THIS year!


  1. Hi Dorothy
    While we are at it, perhaps someone can have a word with the universities. I sat six high-stakes exams last year for my teaching diploma.

    Le sigh.


    1. Think that'll be an even harder one to crack Stephanie. I really would have thought that all those laptop schools who have gone before would have got this sorted by now. Some interesting responses appearing on Twitter ranging from "(history teacher) was making them write three hour exams for practice- might be the answer." to "Perhaps we need to question more than the tools? What about questioning the whole relevance of national exams as an accurate way of assessing 21st century competencies?"


    2. Hi Dorothy - I'm passionate too about re-thinking the paradigms that impact so much on what happens in schools and nationally. I've just done a literature review on what we know about helping students who experience difficulty writing and it seems to me that there is so much thought and evidence around the issue of engagement and motivation - using 21st century tools should just be obvious. I'm doing the specialist teaching post-grad diploma and would love to come out to Pt England for a day or two and experience what you are all doing. IS this possible - sometime in the next month would be great.

      Lynley Forde
      Mairangi Bay

    3. @Lynley - contact the school and this can be arranged

  2. My name is Erika Conn and I'm a student in EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama. I really think test taking is going more to taking them on the computer. It saves so much time! I know that I prefer to do my work on a computer and take notes and such because I am able to type a lot faster than I write with a pen or pencil. I know a lot of schools in my area do not have the money to supply each student with their own personal netbook, but I think that they should have access to computers to be able to complete their work. I know from experience that students will be more interested to do the work on a computer than sitting at their desk with a pen or pencil.


    1. @Erika That is overwhelmingly what our students are saying too. If you are interested my next post provides links to our latest evualation report and there are many quotes from students supporting what you have just said.

  3. My name is Derkesha Dale and I am a student in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. I can honestly admit that from my own experience, I am not good with taking notes, especially if I have to write them down. I think I was blessed with a mental ability to listen and remember what was said in a lecture, in general. I think that doing tests using technology is better than the old paper and pencil technique, because technology is being used widely throughout the world now, and more people are becoming familiar with it. It will save a lot of trees also.

    1. @Derkesha It is interesting that in New Zealand our Curriculum document explicitly charges teachers that one of the Values to be encouraged, modelled, and explored (in our schools) is ecological sustainability, which includes care for the environment. And yet our Education Department continues to churn out forests-worth of paper exams and tests.

  4. Dorothy - any thoughts on what the impact of allowing these students to take the exams in a digital environment be on their outcomes?

    In many places the high-stakes testing impacts the school as much as the students; perhaps this alignment of interests can be highlighted to the decision-makers!


  5. @Jan We are adding this question to our evaluation research for 2012. One set of tests (e-asTTle) has been taken digitally this year in February and will be post tested in November digitally. It will be interesting to compare these students with their results from the previous year.

    We are presuming our senior students will be sent back to pencil and paper to sit NCEA at the end of this year after using a netbook all year in their claswork.

  6. Dorothy,
    My name is Sabra Gilley and I am a student in EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama. I strongly believe that all schools should do whatever it takes to have netbooks and other technology in the classrooms. The way society is going, the entire world will soon be ran by some type of computer or form of technology; therefore, I feel students would benefit more from doing their work on netbooks rather than paper and pencil. We all would most likely agree that the reason we send our children to school is to prepare them for the outside world as they grow older. Whether it be learning how to manage bills or run a business, students in school will need to learn to become technologically literate. I believe that by having children take tests and perform assignments on netbooks, teachers are enabling the students to become proficient adults in the society we live in today.