05 November 2005

Scantron Shame

At the end of last year our school acquired its first ever Scantron machine. Okay, we might be a little slow in the adoption of "new" technologies, but even we can see the writing on the SmartBoard. I would like to brag that we are the only private school in the area that provides each of its students with a laptop, but I don't think square sheets of slate and fist sized hunks of chalk count. I exaggerate--back to the Scantron.

For those of you unaware, a Scantron machine is an automatic test grader. Students fill in answer bubbles on pre-printed answer sheets with #2 pencils, and the teacher feeds the sheets through the machine. The results shoot out the other end. Now you probably know what I am talking about.

Anyway, we finally have one. It didn't come in time for many of us to make use of it last year. This year it has been adopted by several teachers for nearly every one of their tests and quizzes. Last week I finally got around to using it.

Traditionally, I have a pre-test ritual. I tell my students to clear their desks of everything except for a blue or black pen only. One of them will respond in befuddlement, "Is a pencil okay?" or "Can I use green?" The rest of the students will respond in exasperation, "He just said blue or black pen." By the middle of the first semester this has become the test day joke. On this day, I had them take out a number two pencil for a grammar test. I should have taken the general befuddlement of the class as a bad omen, but I was under the influence of Benadryl.

As soon as the test was done, I gathered up my answer sheets and headed to the teacher workroom. I began to feed answer sheets into the open maw of the Scantron. As each sheet goes through, a tiny dot matrix printer with red ink marks every wrong answer and tabulates the number wrong for each student on his or her answer sheet.

I soon discovered that the more noise that it makes, the worse a student has done. It is a fairly noisy process and takes place in a public place (the teacher workroom). A long silence followed by a single "tsat!" indicates a 100, but a long series of "tsats!", similar in sound to a printout of the Pentateuch, indicates a serious problem. After the first two grammar tests went through, I grew concerned. I looked around at the other teachers in the workroom and chuckled nervously. Maybe it's my key. I checked my key. It was fine; I continued to feed the sheets into the Scantron. "Tsat-tsat-tsaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat!Tsat!" Oh dear. "Tsat! Tsaaaaaaat! Tsat! Tsaaaaaaaaaaaat! Tsat!" Not doing so well. No one would look me in the eye as I tried to explain that it was a grammar test, but I trailed off in a mumble.

It continued this way through over fifty tests. Only two 100's and alot of lesser grades resulted. Bowing my head in shame, I left the teacher workroom, the eyes of the other teachers boring into my back as they shook their heads.

I have petitioned the administration of the school to have the Scantron machine moved into a sound proof closet to better protect student privacy rights. Until then, I am grading my own tests. Let my failures be my own.



fiorinda said...

Maybe you need to write easier tests?

As P. says, Just Kidding!!

Splitcat Chintzibobs said...

Ah yes. The classic answer for low test scores...easier tests. :)