Previous blogs have stressed the benefits of reading and writing on paper rather than on digital devices. However, fewer studies compared the results of written tests to those of computer-based tests(CBT). In 2015 the National Institute of Health (NIH) released a report stating that those responding on a computer completed the test faster than those answering on paper, “Participants in computer-based tests are not at a disadvantage in terms of their test results.” However, more recent studies present quite  a different picture.  

The following year, the results of a computer-based version of the PARCC exams indicated that millions of students “scored worse than those who took the same exams with paper and pencil. . . .  the advantage for paper-based test-takers appeared to be most pronounced in English/language arts and upper-grades math.”  A 2018 Harvard review, “Testing Mode Matters,” cited a study from the American Institute of Research that also demonstrated a stark difference between those using computer versus paper-based testing. “Students who took the test online performed as if they’d had five fewer months of academic preparation in math and 11 fewer months of preparation in English than their peers who took the test on paper.” 

Recent school closures resulted in remote learning, and computer-based testing became more pervasive. Last month, MIT released results of a study that linked test scores to poverty levels of students. It showed that “CBT has a significant negative impact on test scores of multiple subjects. The negative impact is not uniform across student subgroups but rather particularly large for students in poor households. There is little evidence that the effect fades as students and schools become more experienced with computerized testing.” 

Educators, take note: when given the opportunity to choose a test mode, select a paper-based test to benefit students.

Laura Maniglia