The School Principal – Insights from
the NYS 2024 ELA CBT Testing 

Clearly computer-based testing (CBT) is upon the school districts with its related challenges for students. Unlike paper-based testing, CBT opens new avenues of expression not readily available with a paper response. The most recent ELA CBT testing for grades 5 and 8 demonstrated what can happen when students are not accustomed with the challenges of responding to a short- or extended writing prompt.

Nature of the Challenge

While students have the skills to do work on a computer, they may not have the experience to use the available tools such as copying and pasting information from a text into a response to a writing prompt. For example, in addressing a short-response test item the student is required to state an inference followed by two supporting details from the text for full, two-point credit. Most students were able to state an appropriate inference; however, when it came to providing textual support for the inference, they were inclined to copy extensive passages from a text which often contained the appropriate support and much, much more. Also, the copied text was usually bolded and at a larger letter size. The point needing to be made is this never happened with paper-based responses. The response to a short-response writing prompt may be made in as few as two to three sentences.

In addressing an extended-response writing prompt the matter got worse. Here is where the student needs to address the criteria guiding the nature of an appropriate response which includes content and analysis, command of evidence, coherence, organization, style, and control of conventions. What appeared in many student responses would be addressed as writing off the top of one’s head. In other words, responses were not planned, but were written in a direct manner in which a student’s insight and commentary were minimal and over-shadowed by huge instances of copied text. On a four-point scoring rubric this situation makes it very difficult for students to score above a two. Past experiences would show our students are better than this.

Recommended Action

A critical remedy rests squarely on experience. The situation may easily be overcome with students reviewing models and being instructed in the appropriate use of computer tools for drafting both short- and extended-responses. Also, the opportunity to use a planning page or scratch paper to lay out a response should be explored. Another important element, particularly in writing an extended response is format or structure. It was evident that many students did not see the need to use paragraphing. Yet, the rubric requires an introduction and a conclusion. In my work with teachers, I suggested that the bullets in a writing prompt be the basis for the format. Write your introduction; address the first bullet; address the second bullet; and write a conclusion. And remember, this test is untimed.

Finally, it would be beneficial if schools had a similar computer-based system available for students to experience these challenges. They are available. Education Vistas offers such a system.

Dr. Bruce H. Crowder is a senior researcher for Educational Vistas, Inc. His work is primarily focused on creating pathways for deeper learning for all students through student performance and a dynamic curriculum replete with strategic teaching. Dr. Crowder may be reached at