The Unanticipated Problem with Testing

If you live in Indiana, and if you have children (or have friends with children), you may have noticed some headlines yesterday:

ISTEP computer glitches boot out 27,000 students

Testing company’s problems worsen in third year of contract. Some educators question student results

Several Schools Suspend ISTEP+ For Day After Glitch Slows Online Tests

IPS asks schools to suspend ISTEP testing because of online problems

I can post more, but it would take too much time.

Now, there are a few things I would like to point out, but then I’m going to stop because I don’t want to get my blood pressure too high this early in the morning.

Problem 1: McGraw Hill, who has been contracted to provide the IN tests through June 2014 has had glitches every year since the contract began. 2011: 10,000 students booted from the test. 2012: 9,000 students. 2013: 27,000 students.

Long story short: in the last three years, 46,000 students have had their tests taken away from them in the middle of the session. And let’s remember, these are third through eighth graders.

Problem 2: Because of the immense pressure on states to perform under impossible requirements, officials can now skew data because of the glitches. This quote, from the IndyStar article, stood out in particular:

In 2011, when 10,000 students were booted out of the system, 215 scores were invalidated by the state because they were lower than expected. About 723 students with scores that were higher than expected saw no change.

Now, I know in the long run, 215 students is a drop in the bucket, but the precedent being set is absolutely inexcusable. This is opportunistic cheating and score buffering.

Problem 3: Let’s compare this to paper-and-pencil testing for a moment. Students were booted out of the test, at times in the middle of reading a passage, and not allowed to log back in. Officials are saying testing will resume as normal on Tuesday and Wednesday. How do you expect a child, who is already feeling immense anxiety over the test, to have valid results?

photo credit: albertogp123 via photopin cc

photo credit: albertogp123 via photopin cc

In essence, this would be like a teacher taking a testing booklet from students at random during testing, and then having them continue the next day. With no warning, with no explanation. This is a travesty.

McGraw Hill, on the other hand, has sanctions worked into the contract, but officials have not levied penalties at all in any of the three failures of service.


Letters to my Senators

Following Wednesday’s Senate vote, I wrote both of my Senators, one of which voted in favor of the amendment, one against. You can read the letters below.

To Dan Coats, voted against the amendment

Dear Senator Coats,

I am writing to express my deep disappointment in your vote on the Manchin-Toomey amendement defeated in the Senate Wednesday evening. A law requiring background checks on any gun sale is common sense, and the failure of the Senate to break the status quo of voting against difficult choices is deplorable.

In addition, looking through public records, it is hard for me to separate political contributions from pro-gun organizations from representatives voting patterns. Accepting $1,000 from Safari Club International (3/29/2013, transaction # A48564D256394D1CA74) gives the appearance of agreeing with the lobby, rather than with the desires of the people you represent.

Hiding behind the “slippery slope” argument is weak, shortsighted, and a failure to stand up to major concerns in the country. I hope you will reconsider your decision if the legislation is introduced again.


Brian E. Bennett

South Bend, IN

To Joe Donnelly, in favor of the amendments

Dear Senator Donnelly,

I want to thank you for voting in favor the Manchin-Toomey background check amendment in the Senate on Wednesday.

I am disappointed that the Senate did not take up the amendment, but I appreciate that you are standing up for compromise between parties and willing to take a stand on common sense legislation when it comes to gun regulations.

I want to encourage you to work with your counterpart, Senator Coats, in the continuation of the bill in the Senate.


Brian E. Bennett

South Bend, IN

Please, take a moment to send a letter to your Senator. It is time we begin voicing our opinions strongly and consistently.

UPDATE 4/19/2013 12:05 PM I wanted to post my sources for the donations received by Dan Coats. You can see his quarterly donation report here, the referenced donation is page 34 of 64. Joe Donnelly’s report is here, and he did not file a receipt for pro-gun groups during Q1.

Screencasting on Chromebooks

Update 7/2/2015 – An older update (this news came out a few months back) but it’s worth noting that some Wacom tablets are now supported on Chromebooks. Take a look here for more info.

Update 3/17/2014 – It was brought to my attention that this post is out of date now that Snagit for Chrome and Screencastify allow you to record screencasts in a Chrome extension. You can still use the Hangout method I’ve outlined, but a Chrome extension gives a much better result much faster in the long run. Both extensions are linked above.

UPDATE 12:24 PM 4/16/2013: After searching and experimenting, we found that a Wacom tablet is not currently supported by the Chromebook. The only piece really affected by this is the whiteboard app. If we find a workaround, I’ll add it to the post.

Chromebooks in education spaces are exploding (see here, here, and here for starters). The management, cost, and ease of use for schools are attractive as they look to deploy hundreds, or even thousands, of these machines to students.

While Chromebooks are attractive for many pragmatic reasons as far as management is concerned, some of the limitations of the machines are keeping many people wary. For starters, the machines cannot run Java-based programs. Because of that, you can’t use many popular web-based screen recording programs like Screencast-o-matic or You also can’t install any outside programs on the machine. As Flipped Learning pushes for more and more student-created content, Chromebooks won’t work because of the software limitations.

Well, they won’t work, unless you have time to find a workaround.

I’ve spent some time researching and watching for new releases from Google as the Chrome browser is updated and released. Here’s what you can now do to screencast on a Chromebook:

  1. Sign up for a Google+ account if you don’t have one yet. – Admittedly, this has been around for a while, but you can now have a Hangout On Air, which does two things: First, Your hangout is broadcast via your account’s linked YouTube channel. Just share out the link you’re given when the Hangout starts. Second, that Hangout is recorded and archived on your YouTube account. You can add these videos to a playlist of specific content.
Screencapture with Hangout On Air

You can select “Enable Hangouts On Air” to broadcast and record

  1. Create presentations in Google Drive. – One of the easiest ways to begin screencasting is to talk over a PowerPoint presentation. If you create a slideshow in Google Drive, you can share your screen during a Google Hangout On Air so your viewers can see talking points, images, or other notes you would give them.

  2. Install a Chrome-based whiteboard app. – There are some whiteboard apps for Chrome that are popping up in the Chrome store. It’s up to you which one you use, but after trying them all out, I prefer “A Web Whiteboard (AWW),” which you can download from the Chrome store. You do not need an account to use it, and you get plenty of space and tools for drawing. You would use this to work out problems, draw pictures, or do whatever else you can do on a white board.

  3. Choose your tools and prep your session, then share your screen. – The crux of this goes back to the Hangout. During your presentation, you can share your screen with viewers. Rather than seeing you, they’ll see your screen with a PIP view of you as you speak. Again, this is then archived on your YouTube channel for later viewing if they’re not there live.

Take a look at the video embedded below to see a demo.

Can’t see the video? Watch it on YouTube

Now, if your students don’t have access to YouTube, obviously, this won’t work. But for schools using Google Apps for Education (GAfE), this is a great way to get kids creating on Chromebooks. They can even have threaded discussions on their Google+ pages after the videos are made for more exploration or debate.

Are you screencasting on Chromebooks? Do you have other apps to share? Leave your thoughts and resources in the comments.