Creating Rigorous Tests So Students Can’t Cheat

anti cheat techniqueToday is Thursday, July 11, 2013.

This picture has been around the block on the web several times, it seems, and I have been unable to find the “original” post.  I first  saw it on Facebook.  It’s a little hard to see, but the teacher has written each student’s name on the board to carve out a little space where the student can park his or her iPhone or smart phone while testing is being done.  This might possibly be a college classroom, or even a high school one.  It looks like the teacher also had the kids turn the phones off completely.

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A high school teacher and his principal recently had a dispute about how to guard against cheating on tests.  One way of doing this is to print several versions of a test, with the questions in different orders.  With most things being done on a computer these days, this is a simple thing to accomplish, using a cut and paste technique.  If the teacher didn’t want to go to that much trouble, he or she could simply staple the pages out of order.   The trick is to have the tests in random order before you pass them out.

In buildings with small, cramped classrooms, it is hard to spread out the desks so that kids can’t cheat so easily.  Another technique discussed, therefore, was to use a smaller font size so that it would be harder for kids in surrounding seats to look at a neighbor’s paper.  Apparently, the principal nixed this idea, saying that the teacher was operating with an expectation that the kids would cheat.

The article said that the teacher had 41 years of classroom experience.  You’d think the teacher would know what to expect and what not to expect when giving a test.

The principal suggested that the teacher give a more rigorous test.  That sounds good, but do you have any idea how much time it takes a teacher to prepare, give, correct, and hand back a test – any test, much less a rigorous one?  Let me be the first to explain it to you.

1.  Let’s take an elementary school teacher who has to give a social studies test, and let’s say that the teacher decides not to just use the “formula” test that goes with the teacher materials, because she knows that if you use the same test year after year, pretty soon students will get the idea that if they can find the test in the teacher’s filing cabinet, they will have it made in the shade.  Don’t think this doesn’t happen.  So the teacher uses the study guide at the end of the unit, plus any information she added to the textbook for this unit, and she devises questions.  Let’s say she devises a test worth 50 points, with some questions worth more than others, so there are not actually 50 different questions.  Just thinking of the questions, plus creating the responses will take 2 or 3 hours.  Let’s say 3, for kicks. This will be done on her own so-called “free” time.

Depending on the type of information she is testing, she may use multiple choice questions (one question with three or four possible answers given), fill-in-the-blank questions (and for elementary, teachers usually have a “box” with answers in it, from which a student can choose, to make spelling a non-issue), short-answer questions (The answer is one sentence.) or essay questions.  (The answer is a short paragraph.)   Since this is a social studies test, there may be a graph to answer questions about, or a map to label.

Multiple-choice questions may not seem very rigorous, but they are certainly easier to correct.  They are time-consuming to create, though, because you have to have one right answer, one definitely wrong answer, and a couple of answers that are “close” but not quite correct.  You wouldn’t believe how many times I have created a test in a hurry and realized too late that there is no correct answer for item #5, or that the answers to question #32 are ambiguous, so I had to give credit for either answer B or answer C.  The more enterprising kids always try to dicker with you if they can.

2. The teacher then types up the test and formats it with enough space around each question so that kids don’t get confused, that they know which answers belong to which question, and that the page is uncluttered enough to make the test easy to read.  The test needs to be printed out at this point and checked for errors.  If the teacher is smart, she will also “take the test” herself to see if there are any ambiguities, errors, or inconsistencies. If she finds any, she has to correct the errors and re-print the “original” – two copies.  One for the Xerox machine and one to use as the answer key. The teacher also has to make sure at this point that all the points of the questions add up to the correct total (50, in this case).  Let’s say this takes 2 hours, for a total of 5 hours so far.

3.  The next step is to copy the test for the kids, one for each child, plus a few extras, because kids do dastardly things to test papers.  Don’t ask, because you don’t wanna know.  Copy, collate, staple.  If the copy machine is being nasty, this will take time.  You have no idea how many times copy machines break down in schools.  I spent hundreds of dollars at Kinko’s Copies over the years, because they were open late and I knew I could get the job done.  Whatever happens, you never want to copy tests on the same day that you give the test, because Xerox machines can sense your nervousness and you will be inviting the machine to have a nervous breakdown.   Let’s say it’s a three-page test, and there are 35 kids in the class.  The copying will take at least an hour, for a total of 6 hours so far.

4.  After hiding the test papers and the answer key, the teacher goes on with her day.  She may wish to devise a little study guide for the kids to take home the night before the test.  That will take time to prepare, as well.  Give it 2 hours to prepare and copy for distribution.   We’re up to 8 hours, and nobody has taken the test yet.

5.  On the day of the test, it may take 40 minutes to an hour to give the test.  Then the teacher collects the test  and stuffs the papers in her wheeled cart.  (Do you have any idea how heavy papers are?)  If a student is absent, a make-up test will have to be given the next day, or whenever the child comes back.  So far, the teacher has spent 9 hours with this test.

6.  Now the teacher has to correct the tests.  Most unit tests with anything other than multiple-choice questions are going to take a while to correct.  10 minutes for each test would be pretty fast.  15 is a standard amount of time.  Some tests take maybe 20 minutes to correct if the student’s handwriting is illegible.  If the teacher has 35 kids and spends only 10 minutes, that’s 350 minutes, without breaks.  350 minutes equals 5 hours and 50 minutes.  I’m not kidding.  If the teacher spends 15 minutes per test paper, this will require 525 minutes, which equals 8 hours and 45 minutes.  Now do you see why your teacher may not have gotten the tests all corrected by the next day after the kids took the test?  If she has a life, that is. Let’s be charitable and say each test takes 10 minutes.  She has spent 14 hours and 50 minutes by now.

7.  She will have to record these grades in her gradebook and do a quick check to see which questions kids missed the most.  This will form the basis for any re-teaching she may decide to do.   40 minutes for this, so 15 hours, so far.

8.  The teacher gives back the test and goes over the answers, focusing on the things kids missed.  Another hour.  16 hours, total.  This is two full work days and much of this time has been spent outside normal school hours.  If the teacher has taken the time to make three or four versions of the test to minimize cheating, add a couple of hours to this total.

9  Now, take a high school history teacher.  Let’s say he teaches World History in the eleventh grade, and let’s say he teaches in a large high school, and he has 6 periods a day of the same subject, with 30 kids in each class.  That’s 180 kids.  If he spends 10 minutes grading each test, this is 1800 minutes, or 30 hours.  He will have to spend evenings and a weekend to get the test corrected.  Even if he spends only 5 minutes on each test, that’s still 15 hours, most of it outside the school day.

As you can see, this is why a lot of teachers like to use the formula test that is already prepared, except that if you use the same test over and over year after year, there will be cheat sheets made.  What would you do?   :-/

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