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.
Just 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.)