Digital Transformation, Seamless Assessment, and a Golf Habit: A Conversation with Denny Way
Digital Transformation, Seamless Assessment, and a Golf Habit: A Conversation with Denny WayAbby Hexter, Director, Communications
The College Board has redesigned the SAT to make it more useful, clear, and focused on the things that matter most for college readiness. Building on the success of the new test, we are accelerating our work to move our assessments to digital platforms so that we can truly deliver the most innovative programs and services for students and our members.
All Access talked with Denny Way, College Board’s new Chief Research Scientist, Digital Transformation, who came on board this month to lead our work to develop and deliver digital assessments. Denny joins the College Board just as we are launching our digital SAT pilot nationally. His insights into the wild world of digital assessment help us understand this important transition.
All Access: Why did you decide to take on this new role at the College Board?
Denny Way: I have been in the assessment field for almost 30 years, and I have always gravitated towards projects having to do with implementing digital assessments. The first project I worked on after receiving my Ph.D. in 1988 was to computerize a licensure test for architects. While working at Educational Testing Service in the 1990s, I was part of the research teams that implemented computerized adaptive testing for the GRE, GMAT and TOEFL tests. More recently, I have worked supporting state K-12 assessments as they have transitioned to computerized delivery. Joining the College Board to help transition the SAT to a computer-based test is a great opportunity for me to apply a career’s worth of experience in a new setting that has many familiar aspects.
AA: What excites you most about your new position?
DW: I am very excited about working across different areas to achieve a common goal. Digitizing the SAT involves intersecting challenges in test development, psychometrics, technology, operations, and program management. In each of these areas, I find bright and dedicated colleagues who are focused on finding solutions and working the details to make things happen.
AA: Why is computer-based testing so important in today’s educational environment?
DW: As technology becomes more commonplace in our classrooms and computers and digital devices become the de-facto tool set for student learning, it is clearly necessary for assessments to follow suit. We now have many examples of computer-based testing in education at the scale necessary to support a high-stakes test such as the SAT. College Board’s leadership has recognized the imperative to pursue computer-based testing to keep our assessments aligns with where learning and instruction is headed.
AA: How will students and educators benefit from expanding our work to deliver computer-based assessments?
DW: Computer-based testing provides a number of benefits for educators, especially in states that administer the SAT statewide. Tasks like receiving materials, distributing test booklets, collecting and reconciling materials, packing and shipping materials, and ensuring security during all these steps are all eliminated with computer-based testing. Computer-based testing also makes it possible to utilize new assessment approaches, such as adaptive testing, which can shorten tests and return results to students much more quickly. Eventually, digital testing will allow test centers to offer assessments over a flexible testing window, instead of being limited to the scheduled test dates.
Another benefit of computer-based testing is that it provides a number of accessibility features and accommodations. Accessibility features are adjustments to the user interface that all students may use to improve their testing experiences, and accommodations are additional tools that help make test content more accessible to students with disabilities. For example, a color contrast accommodation allows the student to change the background and font of the test content. As computer-based testing technology matures, its ability to present test content that is accessible to all test takers will continue to improve.
AA: In the near term, what does Computer-based testing look like at the College Board?
DW: Just last week, more than 9,000 students across 17 school districts took the SAT digitally as part of a national pilot this October. We will be providing colleges reportable scores from those administrations participating in the pilot. This spring we will be digitally offering the SAT at a limited number of test centers, which have invested in their digital infrastructure to support digital assessments. We will then offer the digital SAT more broadly to states as part of a state contract beginning in the spring 2018.
AA: Looking to the future, what do you see beyond the implementation of computerized assessments? How will we continue to leverage technology to enhance educational opportunities for students?
DW: Long term innovation looks like computer-based tests that expand the types of questions that we can ask, allowing more innovative and realistic tasks than the multiple-choice items we currently utilize. One of the first computer-based tests I worked on was a licensure test for nurses, and when we implemented it (in 1994), the interface only allowed the test-taker to use the space bar and enter key to select responses. In today’s computer-based testing systems, students can drag-and-drop responses, enter explanatory text, construct graphs, shade geometric figures, and produce mathematical expressions, among other things. Yet we are only scratching the surface with respect to the types of assessments technology can make possible and the ways that assessments can be more directly embedded with learning and instruction. For example, some researchers are working on ways to weave assessment seamlessly into the fabric of a learning or gaming environment, which could have significant benefits. Although we are a ways away from being able to blur the distinction between learning and assessment in this manner, it seems clear that the technology exists to take us there.
AA: What else would like people to know about you?
DW: Well, I am lucky to be able to work at home from Pinehurst, North Carolina, which is a beautiful spot to live and a great outlet for my golf habit. My wife used to be in the assessment field (in fact, we met in graduate school in Iowa), but she is retired now and has recently taken up art, working in a variety of mediums and hooked into the local art league. We have two dogs, an elderly but spry golden retriever named Sam, and a smaller black dog of unknown origins named Cissy, who runs fast and may climb onto my lap during video calls if it is storming. I am fortunate to have had a great career in the assessment industry, and I feel like coming to the College Board at this time is icing on the cake.