If there’s one thing that all teachers hate, it is grading tests. It’s a good reason why many take weeks to correct and return even the simplest quiz. Lexmark changes the teaching landscape with its Hosted Testing and Grading system, which lets educators create bubble answer sheets and then automatically correct them. As good as it is, the system requires using one of the company’s multi-function printers (MFP).
Getting started with the Testing and Grading system is simplified because the hosted service doesn’t require any software to be installed on a school computer. All of the action is done via a Web service on Lexmark servers. Because of this, you can use any connected computer with a recent Web browser, regardless of whether it has PC, Mac or Linux software; it even works with Android tablets and iPads. I used an Acer Veriton M4 desktop computer to try it out by creating and correcting a variety of tests and looking at the results.
Lexmark has several versions of the software including ones for districts that want the data to reside locally on a school server. Unfortunately, only the top-of-the-line Custom version lets schools automatically transfer the test results into grade book software.
The process starts with discussions with Lexmark as to what the school wants from the Testing and Grading system and which version makes the most sense. It often leads to a pilot set up for the school to try it out.
Getting it set up is eased by a visit from Lexmark technicians, who get the system connected and working. They also train teachers and administrators how to get the most out of the program so that they can then train teachers and staff to make it fit into the school’s daily operations.
Lexmark charges $1,000 for the visit, but it’s more than worth it when it comes to making the system work with often-complicated firewalls and internal security systems. During the set up phase Lexmark provides the phone number of a dedicated support person in Lexington, KY to help if there are problems. The company charges $50 a month per machine for the service.
By far, the biggest stumbling block is that the Testing and Grading service requires a Lexmark laser multi-function printer, although it can be used as a regular printer, copier and fax machine when it’s not grading tests. I used Lexmark’s X656de, a high-speed multi-function printer that’s aimed at being in the school’s main office, a teacher lounge or in a hallway; it costs $2,500.
Testing and Grading is surprisingly simple and secure. That’s because all the heavy data lifting takes place at Lexmark’s server farm out on the Internet. The data is encrypted while it travels to and from Lexmark’s servers.
After the teacher has created the test’s questions, she uses the Testing and Grading system to create test sheets for the class by pressing the Print Test icon on the printer’s touch-screen. There are sheets with 15-, 30- 60- and 100-questions, but nothing bigger to simulate taking an SAT test, for example. Lexmark can create custom test blanks or you can use two 100-question sheets to cover a large exam.
Each question has up to five potential multiple-choice answers or can be filled in as a true/false answer. Some of the test sheets have blanks for entering the grades of essay or fill in questions, but the teacher will need to manually grade those sections and enter the results on the answer sheet. The Lexmark sheets show how to correctly and incorrectly fill them out for those unfamiliar with this way of testing.
After logging in to the system, I chose the teacher and the class for the test. I then created a 15-question test for the class of 20. The system then prepared blank answer sheets for each member of the class, complete with the name, ID number, class and other data. Each also has a unique bar code on each and the system can print blank ones for new students who aren’t in the school’s student database.
The next part of the sequence is pure magic and can be a real time-saver for every teacher. After pressing Grade Test on the printer’s screen, I ran the answer sheet followed by the class’s tests through the MFP’s scanner. The automatic sheet feeder can hold 75 pages at a time. It can handle ambiguous situations, such as bubbles with nothing filled in or two answers marked and did well on tests with a partially filled bubble.
With the tests graded, the software produces a sheet for each student that contains a smaller version of his answer sheet next to a question-by-question rundown of the correct answers. It shows which questions the student got right or wrong, the raw score and the letter grade. This document can be stored or sent to parents or administrators.
That’s just the start because the software can produce eight different reports that look at everything from how each member of the class fared to how each question was answered; some include useful statistical indicators. At anytime, any of these reports can be printed, emailed or viewed on an iPad.
If the district wants to go deeper, the data uses the common comma separated value (.csv) file format, which can easily be moved into a database or Excel. But, the hosted system can’t produce longitudinal reports, which are likely to be the most interesting for district officials. To do this you need the Enterprise version of the software and local data storage.
Using the hosted system is as easy as using a cash machine; at times, the pay-off can be greater. It took less than 2 minutes to grade and analyze a class’s 20 tests, versus roughly 20 minutes for manually grading and compiling the results. Multiply that by 7 classes a day and you have a real time-saver that can liberate hours of time for extra instruction.
Tests are just the start. It can streamline homework assignments and long-term projects for having students do things like complete the problems at the end of each chapter in a math, grammar or science book.
It can also end up being cheaper to use than using Scantron systems, which require a host PC to operate and expensive answer cards. With Lexmark’s system, a school uses plain paper, and costs roughly 2 cents per page to create.
Currently, the hosted grading system is used in a variety of districts, large and small, including the LA Unified School District. As schools and districts test more, the Lexmark Hosted Testing and Grading system becomes more valuable and can open up lots of time for teachers to actually teach. It is the future of testing.
$1,000 set up charge plus $50 a month per machine
+ Creates and grades bubble test sheets
+ Automatically creates reports
+ Variety of different versions
+ Opens up time for teaching
- Requires Lexmark hardware
- Longitudinal analysis requires Enterprise version