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This is a re-post of Dr. Joe Orban’s popular “Technology Enhanced Items for Educational Performance Assessment” originally posted February 9, 2015

Technology Enhanced Items in Educational Tests have great potential to improve the quality of the tests and measure student knowledge, skills and abilities.  As more schools become wired and the testing devices become less expensive and more prevalent we see an increasing use of TEIs.   Most states whether they work with the PARCC or SBAC Consortium or develop their own standards and tests have already or are planning to implement TEIs to better measure performance standards on more complex concepts.  The idea that deeper knowledge of a subject can be measured with TEIs is reasonable as they can require the student to integrate different sources of information, apply conceptual reasoning and configure their answers to reflect their solution.   This graphic shows one example of a TEI.  It includes an audio clip requiring listening and comprehension skill, and a task to differentiate various items into issues and solutions.  The task itself is a simple drag and drop format that most students are familiar with and if not can be learned in a practice test.  Such a TEI can be taken on a desktop computer, a laptop, a tablet and indeed even a paper and pencil version could be constructed but would require an audio device to play the clip.

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There are numerous types of TEIs and as technology tools advance many more yet to be invented.   What is very important to keep in mind as you consider these types of items is that the goal is to measure the students’ performance on a construct.  Do not use TEIs for the sake of technology alone.  A whiz-bang, cool-looking task facing the student just for the sake of deploying high-tech testing can indeed result in a test that is less reliable and less valid than a simple multiple choice type of test.  How is that?  Simple, when the student spends 5 times the effort on answering the question than it took for them to solve it in their head the item is contaminated with all sorts of extraneous variance.  For example, the student must intuitively understand the design and task the item is presenting.  If alien to the student, they will spend time and effort trying to figure it out and hopefully do so successfully.  Another example is the use of tablets with a finger as a pointing device compared to a computer with a mouse or stylus pointer.  Placing a point on an X-Y coordinate with a finger is not as precise as with an electronic pointer.  You could use a snap-to feature of course, but is that really comparable to a paper and pencil version that some students might be required to take?

TEIs should be done with a clear and specific purpose and be highly tuned to measuring the learned construct or reasoning and not be done for the sake of using impressive technology.