Week from Hell

I was just stabbed in the back – by a machine. Last week, a few diligent students visited during lunch to review their answers to the Scantron portion of their semester final, a usual practice as I encourage students to review their marked papers to learn from their mistakes. The first student (and then the second, and then the third, uh-oh…) noticed scoring irregularities on their Scantron forms, sending an icy chill through my veins.

The Scantron reader, trusted time-saver of every teacher on my campus, was not entirely accurate, marking some wrong answers as correct but more often marking correct answers as wrong.

NotAwesomeJust as a guitar needs to be tuned, a Scantron reader (apparently) needs to be calibrated by a technician every once in a while. I ran my tests at the end of a week of heavy usage, so my students’ answer sheets were only sort of, mostly, kind of right. (After checking with other teachers who used the same machine, it seems just my classes were plagued with misreadings. Sheepishly, I’ll admit I was the very last teacher on the very last afternoon of Finals Week to make my way to the machine. Hey, I’m a busy lady…)

Anyway, this left me with grades that were less than accurate. So while I should’ve spent my prep time this past week getting ready for the spring, I spent the last few days re-grading 170 Scantrons – by hand – to make sure they were correct. In the end, only eight of my 170 students needed grade adjustments (less than 6/10ths of a percentage point in every case) and everyone was wonderfully gracious about the situation, but it still was a huge freakin’ waste of my time.

(I know, I know, you must be thinking, Who cares about 6/10th of one percent? Those eight kids sure did. C’s went to C+’s, A-’s went to A’s, and, in one case, a B+ went to an A-. In my community, these sorts of things matter – a lot.)

The solution to make sure this never – and I mean never – happens again? Better technology, of course.

Just as the iPod replaced my Sony Walkman all those years ago, I’m ready to toss aside the rickety Scantron reader and get to know Zip Grade.

Using my phone or iPad, the app’s developer promises that the scanning technology will allow me to quickly zap each paper and import the data into a spreadsheet. No more hunting down green Scantron sheets from the form-hoarders, waiting in line to use the reader in the teachers’ lounge, or dealing with calibration/hand-scoring nightmares. The app cost me $6.99 for one year of access, a fee I happily would’ve paid a week ago to avoid my final exam fiasco.

And yes, yes, I know that we’re not supposed to rely on Scantron-type tests and should, instead, focus on authentic, formative assessments of students’ learning. (For the record, my final exams also had an essay portion that I labored for a week to score.) In the real world, though, sometimes we just need a quick bubble-dot test to make sure everyone’s on track. Also, Zip Grade looks like it’ll help manage quick, on-the-spot formative assessments, too. Just sayin’.

Has anyone out there tried Zip Grade yet? I’d love to hear any tips, tricks, or advice as I start setting everything up for this spring semester. I’ll definitely report back when I have a better handle on the process and have formed an opinion of the app. [UPDATE: My full review is now available here.]

I also found this YouTube tutorial from Thomas Grodek, who does a nice job of showing the app in action:

(Please note: I have no business affiliation or relationship of any kind with Zip Grade. I just think the app developer’s idea is a potentially wonderful solution for our classrooms. Time will tell, but my fingers are crossed.)

16 thoughts on “Week from Hell

  1. Our school uses Grade Cam which sounds very familiar to the program you were describing. It does item analysis which allows me to see areas of weakness in my teaching, and even has a feature that allows me to export the grades directly to our online grade book! It’s wonderful 🙂

  2. Thanks for the lead, Laura. I haven’t heard of Grade Cam, but I’m off to check ’em out right now. Something’s definitely gotta change for me this year…

  3. zipgrade is phenomenal!!! It does automatic data analysis to show how many students chose each answer, then you can click on each answer and it tells you which students chose that answer. I made each student a answer sheet and put it in a page protector. They write on the protector with a vis a vis (wet erase) market, after scanning we just wipe off their answers with hand sanitizer. The images are stored in the zipgrade program!!!

  4. Oh, see now, Aleta, you’re getting me excited about this. Too bad it’ll be a few weeks before our next exam. Maybe I’ll throw a little trial run at my juniors later this week. I also like your tip about reusing the sheets/page protectors. Smart!

  5. Ivy Hendrix says:

    We use Mastery Connect, which scans from my computer or iPad. While it does quickly take the information and place it into graphs, I sometimes feel I could have graded them quicker. We are generally using it for quick 5 question check-ins. I hope to become more proficient, and so quicker, as I continue to use it and figure out exactly where to place the paper to quickly scan. 🙂

  6. Hey Ivy, thanks for the input. I love technology, so I can’t believe how many different options are available that I knew NOTHING about. I feel like I’ve been trapped in the ’90s with this Scantron reader. Glad to know to expect some hills and valleys as I figure out what’s going to work best for my classroom.

  7. Why does that picture of a scantrons have multiple answers for one line??

  8. The machine on our campus allows multiple-letter answers per line. So, for matching, for example, I can have A, B, C, D, E, and also AB, AC, ABC, or even ABCDE, if I want. Cool, right? The new ZipGrade app I’m now using lets me do the same thing.

  9. ZipGrade is awesome! I like to use it for any quizzes over 20 questions, and all of the multiple-choice portions of my tests. I usually mark on the sheet after I scan it, to show students which questions they missed, which is honestly the only downside of Zipgrade vs. Scantron (since Scantron marks the paper for you). Other than that, it’s great, and I love the item analysis feature!

    Next year my school is using Mastery Connect and I’m hoping it’ll be as easy to use as Zipgrade.

  10. Hi, Laura!

    Have you ever heard of Flubaroo?? It is an extension for Google Forms and is, in my opinion, literally lifesaving. It saves so much time and energy!! Students can take a quiz on google forms, and Flubaroo instantly time stamps and grades it… Giving you a new Google Form with the breakdown of each student’s overall grade, as well as statistics (and a pie chart!) of how many students got each question right. Flubaroo even grades short answer for you! It pulls key words and lets students do “fill in the blank” answers, too. On the form, it will highlight which students got below passing grades so you can immediately see any red flags.

    I use this for quick surveys and reading comprehension… Definitely one of my new favorite tools! Check it out if you haven’t already!! 🙂

    -Blair (a newbie teacher!)

  11. YES, Blair! My teacher bestie Annette also uses Flubaroo and I’m dying for my kids to all have 1:1 access so I can better utilize this tech. From the demos I’ve seen, it could be a real life-saver. Thanks for reminding me of this one. 🙂

  12. Jacqueline Maldonado says:

    Hi, I am an ESL teacher in Puerto Rico. You guys are so ahead of us (teachers in PR), technology in our classroom is limited to teacher’s internet access, projector and a few smart boards. No computer classroom for the students, no ipads, no google, nothing. You think scantron reader is old, we don’t have that…We still working like in the 80’s

  13. Oh my goodness, Jacqueline, now this is a reality check. I definitely enjoy my tech tools, but you’re reminding me that a lot of teaching tech trends are interesting but not necessary. Let’s never underestimate the power of a pencil and a big ol’ teacher’s heart. And we may have Google, but you have all of that beautiful ocean – I’m thinking, you win! 🙂

  14. Zip grade didn’t record many answers on many students.

  15. Ugh, that’s so frustrating, Cecilia! I haven’t faced similar problems, so you might want to check in with ZipGrade’s tech support via their website. I know that sometimes kids fill in the circles too faintly or maybe it’s a lighting/angle issue when the papers are being snapped by your phone? Not sure, but I hope the ZipGrade folks can iron out this wrinkle for you. Hang in there!

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