Though the questions have changed, the way in which Missouri's schoolchildren take standardized achievement tests every spring is pretty much the same as it's been for nearly 50 years.
Students read questions from a printed test booklet then mark their answers with a No. 2 pencil on a paper card filled with numbered rows of little squares or circles.
After the test, an electronic scanner is used to read which of the filled-in squares or circles correspond to a correct answer, resulting in a score. It's kind of like marking an extra-long election ballot, except with math questions.
The time-honored system has worked well enough over the decades, but all things must pass, and for the vast majority of public schools in the state, the 2013-'14 school year will be the last time students hear a test monitor say, "Pick up your pencils and begin."
After that, the phrase will be more along the lines of, "Key in your username and password."
That's right, achievement tests are going online, and most schools, including those in the Maryville R-II system, are ready, or will be, in plenty of time for the switch.
A new report shows that a majority of Missouri's public schools already have the technology necessary to conduct computer-based achievement testing, which is set to begin during the 2014-'15 school year.
According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, public schools statewide report that about 95 percent of their computer devices provide the level of technology necessary to handle web-based testing.
The new exams will be given to students in grades 3-8 and to high school juniors. Tests are being aligned to the Common Core State Standards for language arts and mathematics adopted by the State Board of Education in 2010.
Maryville Middle School Principal Kevin Pitts said conducting online learning assessments should offer a number of advantages, including quicker results, which will give administrators more time over the summer to design learning strategies for students who appear to be lagging behind.
In addition, state education officials believe testing via computer will allow for more types of questions and improved accommodations for students with special needs.
But going from pencils to computers will likely create some problems as well, such as making sure students, especially younger children, possess adequate keyboard skills.
Then there are the logistics. Maryville Middle School has 420 students but only about 300 computers. Also, many of the machines are located in labs and other non-classroom environments that Pitts said are unsuitable for test-taking.
"We want the students to be comfortable," he said. "You want to test them where they're taught."
But computers, of course, can be moved, especially in MMS's all-wireless environment, and Pitts said he believes that online testing doesn't present any logistics and scheduling problems that can't be solved. The current three-day testing period, for example, may have to expand somewhat.
Page 2 of 2 - On balance, Pitts welcomes the change, and said it is probably inevitable given the education system's increasing emphasis on technology.
"I think it's just a natural part of the world we're living in," Pitts said.
"Five years from now people will think that's the way we've always done it."