Why Print Is More Valuable Than Digital for Student Testing
The printing and finishing of school tests, or examination booklets, is a highly specialized and very big business. I claim some knowledge here because there are 24 IBIS Smart-binders (worldwide) used by school testing companies. Printing test booklets is a definite science. The “bubbles” printed on a page - which are filled-in by number 2 pencils - must be in exact and consistent in position in order for the test scanning/scoring machines to be accurate.
Certain inks used in printing are designed to be scanned, and others must remain “invisible.” Producing saddle-stitched test booklets becomes a bit of a science, as page “creep” must be taken into account in order to keep images consistently registered.
In the last few years, this industry has been the subject of a major push by various test producing firms to ditch the printed test booklet and “go digital,” by replacing printed test booklets with iPads or similar. The digital advocates have pressed the ease/cost reduction of digital, electronic delivery of tests (no need to send booklets back for scanning), along with faster rollout, updating of tests, and more...
But there were a number of flies in the ointment of their sales pitch. The biggest was test results and comprehension. A number of recent studies showed that tests taken on digital devices and paper tests showed a 10% gap, with the digital test takers achieving lower results. For exam takers seeking best results, such a lower result could mean the difference between being accepted into the university of your choice, or not. That’s pretty serious. Similar studies have shown that overall comprehension and information retention is better with printed materials than with digital.
The other claim that the digital testing process could be accomplished in a shorter time period is also worthy of skepticism. An industry source recently told me about an instance where digitally-administered tests for a school district took six weeks to complete versus one week for printed booklets. The end result has been a rush back to print for many districts, and the school test printers are certainly happy about that.
What we may be seeing is a reevaluation of print's inherent advantages over the digital screen. Printed book sales are up, as readers realize that they already spend enough time in front of a PC screen in their working lives and would rather pick up a real book than its e-version. The contrast of the printed page is many times better than the display that I’m working on right now. So I say to all of those “print is dead” folks out there ... “It's not by a long shot!”