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Inside the exam-marking machine

  • Friday, 8. June 2012 @ 18:26
This summer I am working at the Alberta Education marking centre again.

Regardless of what your feelings are about the Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs) and Diploma (Grade 12) exams, I think that teachers who are administering these exams should know a little about what happens to the students' papers BEFORE they get marked. Students might be interested, too.

I don't know how much information I'm actually allowed to divulge - obviously I'm bound by order to not say anything about the schools' or the students' papers that come through my hands, but I don't know what else - so I'll be as broad and brief as possible.

Part A exams (written answer)

  1. Receiving - Boxes of exams shipped in from schools are picked up at the loading dock. The coloured shipping labels are scanned to register that packages have been received by us.
  2. Breakout - The boxes are opened, and the exam materials (exam papers, teacher marking guides, audio CD recordings of the questions for the vision-impaired, etc.) - and the accompanying school paperwork (registration/attendance lists, packing slips, etc.) - are separated into bundles.
  3. Pre-sorting - Staples are removed from the paperwork. Marking guides, the question CDs, and any obviously unused exam booklets (i.e. with no student labels on them) are removed from the bundles.
  4. Sorting - Each student label has an index number printed on it. Every bundle of papers is sorted numerically by index number, student label -side up. Using the attendance list as a guide, any further blank papers (eg. labels were applied but student was absent) are removed. Papers with misapplied labels or student information but no label are flagged for review by the next department.  (4b. All papers, blank or not, have their serial numbers (printed on the front cover) scanned in to register their return to AB Ed.)
  5. Registration - This department registers papers with no labels (usually means the student arrived at the school part-way through the school year, or wrote elsewhere other than at their own school) and makes labels and marking sheets for them. They also print replacement labels.
  6. Scanning - The student-label-with-no-name labels are scanned in to mark that an exam has been received from the student. Attendance data is also keyed into the database. A list is printed off for each school+subject that says how many papers were received, and names/indexes of students whose papers were not received for whatever reason.
  7. Verification - The scanner's list is checked against the registration/attendance list information for accuracy. The books are counted to make sure they're all there. They remove the school paperwork (some supervisors deal with it, I'm not sure what they do, though).
  8. Inserting - Marking sheets with index numbers are collated with and tucked into their matching booklets. ONLY AT THIS POINT is the tear-off flap on the back with the student's name removed to make the exams anonymous to the markers. Some schools think they're making our lives easier by preemptively ripping the flap off. Please don't do that. The pre-sort people have to tape them back on. I can't stress this enough. TEACHERS: PLEASE DON'T RIP OFF THE TABS FOR US. THANK YOU. Something happens to the tabs. I don't know what.
  9. Bundling - Exams are combined into packets, each of 5 papers from 5 different schools.
  10. Marking - It's not as simple as just putting the packets into the hands of teachers, but it's at this point that teachers actually get to look at the papers.
  11. ???!

Part B exams (multiple-choice / numerical answer - machine scored)

  1. As above.
  2. As above.
  3. As above, but readings and/or question booklets are also separated, leaving only the paperwork and bubble sheets in the bundles.
  4. As Steps 4-7 above.
  5. The bubble sheets are, well, machine scanned.
  6. ???!

So that's a peek inside the standardized test marking machine. Any questions?