By Cleveland Sam
“The Caribbean Examinations Council has successfully launched its Electronic Testing or e-testing service to the region.” The announcement was made by Barbados Minister of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation on Monday, 30 January, 2017.
The January 2017 sitting of the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) was a historic moment for both the CXC and for the region as a whole. For the first time, students across the region were taking multiple public examinations, not with pen and paper, but on computers! The age of e-testing is here and once again CXC is blazing the trail.
This position is not unfamiliar to CXC – it was the first Examinations Board to use school-based assessment and profile grades. While it is not the first to use e-testing, it is the first to use it in public examinations in the Caribbean.
The January CSEC sitting, usually a small sitting of 13 subjects, provided CXC with the opportunity to gauge the acceptance by candidates as well as examinations administration personnel who worked directly with the new system. It was the proverbial test run for bigger things in May/June 2017 and full roll-out in 2018, as well as part of CXC’s phased implementation of this new era in examinations administration.
In the January 2017 sitting, some 500 candidates from seven territories: Anguilla, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat and St Lucia successfully took their CSEC Paper 01 (multiple choice) examination fully online in 12 subjects.
January 2018 saw significant growth in the number of candidates and an expansion of the territories participating in e-testing. This time around, 709 candidates took the examinations using e-testing option, compared with 500 candidates in 2017. The number of territories increased from seven in 2017 to ten in 2018. Candidates came from Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis and St Lucia. Grenada provided the most candidates for any one territory – 218, followed by St Lucia, 141 and Antigua and Barbuda, 106 candidates.
In terms of subjects, English A received the largest entries for e-testing, 141, followed by Mathematics, 132, then Social Studies, 81 candidates.
Candidates have their say
Following the first administration of e-test in January 2017, CXC surveyed a sample of 158 candidates who participated in e-testing. The candidates were overwhelmingly positive about their e-testing experience; 47 per cent rated it as very good, 28 per cent rated it as good, and 20 per cent rated it as satisfactory. This rating was achieved without most of the candidates using the e-testing platform prior to the actual examination. Sixty-seven per cent of candidates said they never practiced on the e-testing tool, which CXC made available to candidates from November 2016. Thirty-two per cent said they used the practice tool.
But perhaps the most significant sign of candidates’ approval is that 86 per cent of them said they would recommend using e-testing in the May/June examinations.
Though the experience was overwhelming good, some candidates expressed a few concerns. These were mainly related to Internet speed, computer capacity, privacy of the computer monitors and fears of possible power outages during the examination.
“I find the e-testing exam to be very effective and have no concerns regarding to it,” one candidates commented. Another quipped, “I do not have any concerns. It is just my personal decision, but I rather the use of pencil and paper.”
What is e-testing
For many in the Caribbean, e-testing is a relatively new concept. So what really is e-testing? There is no single unanimous definition, however, there are some very good working definitions that this article can embrace. The Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) describes e-testing as a test that replicates or replaces paper-based tests with a computer screen. But is it really this simple? Not exactly. E-testing is more nuanced than that.
The e-Assessment Association describes electronic testing or E-testing as “a rapidly growing area of e-assessment involving the delivery of examinations and assessments on screen, either using localised computer or web-based systems.”
Ayo et al. (2007) define e-testing as “a system that involves the conduct of examinations through the web or the intranet.” They suggest that it can be provided using a dedicated system or included as a module part of a Learning Management System (LMS).
Where e-testing is more than replicating paper-based test is that it can bring so much more flexibility and authentic experience to the test. Imagine for a moment doing a biology test about the heart and being able to see a video of blood pumping through the pulmonary artery and the atrium and vena cava in full functionality. Compare this with a black and white two-dimensional drawing of the heart on paper. Which is more authentic? This is just one major advantage of e-testing; it enables the use of a variety of assets made possible with new technologies that could not be easily replicated on paper such as videos, audio clips, hyperlinks, animation, and interactive quizzes. Further possibilities for e-testing include the use of full ICT interactivity. This refers to the use of virtual situations requiring the candidate to process information to arrive at the required solution.
Combining these tools makes assessment design and implementation more efficient, timely, sophisticated and hopefully more attractive both for the teacher and student.
Candidates with special needs stand to benefit significantly from e-testing as the technology makes the systems of special provisions for them more efficient. According to Dianne Medford, Assistant Registrar in the Examinations Administration and Security Division, “the Council endeavours to ensure that all candidates, including candidates with special needs, are allowed to demonstrate their abilities under assessment conditions.” She stated that e-testing levels the playing field for candidates with special needs. “The introduction of electronic testing is expected to enhance significantly the delivery of examinations and increase access to accommodations for the examinations,” she said. In an article entitled, “Electronic Testing, Benefits Special Needs Candidates,” Medford explained several of the advantages to special needs candidates.
With respect to the granting of additional time, in the paper-based system, the supervisors or invigilator receives a list of special accommodations from the Local Registrar prior to the test, and allocates the quantity of time to the individual candidate prior to the start of the exam. In the e-testing environment, this process is automated.
“The scheduling component of the electronic testing system can be used by the administrators at CXC to allocate the additional time to individual candidates prior to the examination. When the candidate accesses the examination, the time allocated for the examination is automatically updated to include the additional time which has been approved,” the Examinations Administration and Security Officer explained.
Similarly, for candidates who request enlarged prints in the paper-based system, the exam paper was enlarged 141 percent and was large and cumbersome to manage. However, with e-testing candidates access large text by simply adjusting the font size on the monitor.
Visually impaired candidate required screen reader software to access their exams in the past and, as a result, CXC provided the exam on CD for these candidates. However, “electronic testing greatly simplifies access to the screen reader since all question papers are provided in electronic format,” she explained.
E-testing has also solved the issues relating to special candidates’ need for readers and word processors. In the case of the reader the computer reader does it for the candidate, while the issue of word processor does not arise for e-testing. In fact all candidates have access to the same technology in e-testing.
Security and efficiency
As an examinations board, one of the key concerns with any system implemented is the security of the examinations and their integrity. While there is no fool-proof system, e-testing represents a very robust system that provides some comfort. The platform used by CXC requires that the test is taken using a lockdown browser, commonly called a safe exams browser. Sandra Thompson, also an Assistant Registrar in the Examinations Administration and Security Division explains: “The e-testing platform is so designed that unless the safe browser is installed on the computer, the candidate cannot attempt the examination without the examination supervisor’s intervention. Once this software is installed, the computer is automatically changed to a secure workstation which would prevent the candidate from accessing any unauthorized local or online resources (websites, applications etc.) for the duration of the examination.”
The security of the system is further bolstered by password protection at two levels. Candidates are issued with a password for the test. When they are ready to start the test, the invigilator issues a second “day” password for the test being taken.
One of the issues some stakeholders have raised about implementing e-testing is that lack of Internet connectivity or the availability of very poor connectivity. Mrs Thompson said CXC has three modes of delivering e-test and, while Internet connectivity is required at some point, it is not needed to do the test. The three modalities are fully online, partially online and fully offline.
Fully online: With this option the candidate completes and submits the examination online. This option is best suited to schools/centres that have excellent Internet with no interruption.
Partially online: For this option the candidate downloads (in the background), caches and completes the examination. When he/she is finished, the exam is then uploaded to the CXC examination server. This option may withstand partial outage while maintaining the security of examinations centrally.
Fully offline (no Internet): This option does not require Internet access during the examination. The examination is cached before the day of the examination and sent to a special server with a code. On the day of the examination a special password is given to decrypt the examination, which is then cached to the individual test-takers’ computers. On completion of the examination, the exam is uploaded to the CXC examination server.
These options for accessing e-testing will enable a wider cross section of schools/centres to implement e-testing and address one of the major concerns of stakeholders.
Minister Jones described e-testing as “the next level in CXC’s delivery of products and services to the region” during the press conference. The minister was spot on. Not only has e-testing brought the Caribbean in line with other regions of the world in respect of testing practices, but it also places CXC in a position to offer the region enhanced examination services. Among them are faster turnaround time for examination results and greater flexibility for learners to take their assessment which will allow them to take examinations when they are ready rather than at any of the two times currently offered by CXC.
“E-testing is a quantum leap in examinations administration for CXC, and a major step forward for the Caribbean in its application of modern information communication technology to the education process in general and to examinations administration in particular,” Minister Jones concluded. Let’s embrace it.
Cleveland Sam is Assistant Registrar – Public Information and Customer Services at CXC.
Use this link to read a special issue of the Caribbean Examiner magazine that focused on electronic testing: http://www.cxc.org/e-testing-ready-caribbean-examiner/