Digital Exam Generators – A Bad Idea

There are several software programs available to teachers today that claim to digitally create standards based tests for teaching units that provide a variety of test question types. While this may be true, and it is quite amazing that these software programs exist, I do not recommend fully depending on any of these programs for testing purposes.
The problem with digital test generators is many of these programs offer a very biased approach to testing on a particular unit. While subjects such as Math or Science may not suffer as greatly from such bias, content areas like English and Social Studies tests that are created offer test questions by the creator that are often very one sided. To further explain, you have to have taught your unit to the test in order for your students to be successful, whether or not your interpretation of the material matches the test creator.
The problem that exists with subjective subjects as well is that students may have interpreted material to fit their own prior knowledge. Although they perhaps learned a new skill along the way such as a literary element for an important date in time, the factual material is not always all that s tested on. Studies show that in these digitally generated tests, students usually perform quite well when tested on hard, tangible material but often do quite poorly on comprehension type questions, not because they don t comprehend the question but because their interpretation of the material does not match that of the test generators.
Teachers should not fully rely on these test generators to create tests for students. A variety of personally written questions combined with the test generated questions would be the best alternative. There are most certainly questions that these software programs generate that are extremely well written. Combining teacher written questions along with the software programs will offer a more valid test as teacher questions can reflect a certain aspect of the unit while the test generators questions can offer another point of view.
Another program that has recently caught the attention of teachers is essay graders. While the test generators can truly be useful to creating more well-rounded tests, I urge all educators to avoid essay graders, at least with the current programs available. A number of colleagues and I conducted an experiment using our textbooks essay grading software a couple of years ago (the same software the company still promotes today). The program picked up on all spelling errors and many grammatical errors but failed to identify issues with essay organization, content, and most importantly plagiarism identification. Granted, the program was likely not designed to go so into depth with grading an essay, its short-comings are quite noticeable. Perhaps in the future, these programs will gain a bit more credibility, but for the time being, you re better off just grading your own essays!
As technology continues to develop on a day-to-day basis, the issues with these programs will likely disappear. For now, it is best to still rely on yourself and what you know you ve taught your students to create solid and credible tests and accurately grade student essays.

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