Machine-Scored Bubble Forms Can Cause Problems for Some Students

Multiple choice and true/false tests are often evaluated using bubble-type, machine-scored forms. This is extremely helpful for teachers who have lots of papers to grade. But students who have visual-motor integration problems might have trouble using them and make errors putting answers in the correct spot on the bubble form. They might put the answer to number five on the form where number six is, or they might bubble in the letter “B” when they mean “D.” They might start bubbling in their answers in the wrong column on the form. When these errors happen, the student gets a very low grade that does not reflect how much they actually know. Here are some strategies to try if using these forms is a problem for your child.

  • Ask the teacher if it is OK for her to write answers on the test page before transferring them to the bubble sheet. This might help for two reasons. First, bubbling in the answers is a single step that does not require holding the question and answer in working memory. All your child has to remember is the question number and the answer she needs to bubble in. That reduces the likelihood of errors because of trying to hold too much information in memory at once. Second, if she does make an error transferring the answer, she can always check the answer against the actual test where she first answered. She can show her teacher that she really did know the answer but made a mistake putting it on the form.
  • If your child has a visual-motor integration problem, he might not be able to keep his eyes going in a straight line. He should use a blank index card or a ruler to keep his place on the bubble form. The index card can help make sure he does not skip down a line or number. If he lines up the card with the correct number on the form, he should make fewer errors.
  • Your child might need to cover up everything she is not currently working on with a clean sheet of notebook paper. This helps focus her eyes on what is important for the question.
  • If she makes a mistake on the form, she needs to be sure she erases completely before bubbling in the correct answer. If she does not, the machine may count the answer wrong even though she bubbled in the correct answer.

All of these strategies are easy to implement. The teacher needs to know why your child needs the strategy, though. It would be easy to think a child is planning to cheat if she comes in to take a test with a sheet of paper or index card. These strategies can be allowed as accommodations on a child’s IEP or 504 Plan, as well.

If these strategies do not help your child, she can also be exempted from using the machine-scored bubble forms. If that is the case, the teacher needs to know why it’s necessary. You can say something like, “My child makes lots of mistakes using a bubble sheet.  If you want to know how much she knows, it is better to allow her to write her answers right on the test. If she has to transfer to the bubble form, what you will find out is how well she can bubble in the answers—not what she has learned from you.”

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What Does Your Child’s “Grade Equivalent Score” Really Mean?

In another blog post, I wrote about what percentiles mean on standardized tests.

Another score you are likely to see is the grade equivalent (GE) score. They will look something like this: “5.3” or “7.9.” When you see “5.3,” this means students in the 5th grade after the third month of school (September is month zero, October is month one, and so on through June, which is month nine). GE scores can be very misleading.

Let’s think about the score of “7.1” (7th grade, in October). A very large sample group of students in the 7th grade are given the test during October. If your 7th grade child scores an average score compared to this sample group at the same time of year, then she is said to be functioning at the “7.1” level. But, if your child scores much higher than average, her GE score will be reported as being higher. If she received a “9.6,” that means the test makers are estimating that she scored about the same as a 9th grader taking the same test would have scored in March of their 9th-grade year.

As a parent, if you see “9.6” you might think your child is ready for 9th grade. But, remember that your child was never tested on 9th grade material; he was tested on 7th grade material and did better than the average 7th grader in the sample group did.

It is helpful to know whether your child is functioning on grade level. But, be very careful if the GE score shows her functioning at a higher level. Grade equivalent scores are not meant to be interpreted that way.

Parents: Are there other types of scores you’d like me to address in my SchoolFamily.com blog space? If so, please let me know by leaving the information in the comments section (below). Test scores are very confusing, even for many teachers who need to be able to explain them to parents!


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