More Evidence Suggests Students Perform Better on Paper

The difference was most dramatic on the English section of the test. But the same effect also appeared in the results for the portions of the test that focused on eighth-grade math -- Algebra I and Algebra II.

Schools gave the exam, known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test, to students in third through eighth grades as well as some high school students. Approximately 80% took the test online, and the remainder tested on paper.

In analyzing the data, state officials attributed some of the disparity in results to the fact that students in Howard County, who usually score above the state average on standardized tests, took the exam’s pencil-and-paper version. But their analysis also revealed that those students accounted for only 40% of the difference between the test’s online and paper versions.

"We simply don’t know enough to understand what is going on here to draw long-term conclusions," said Jack Smith, the interim Maryland superintendent, in a Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, Md.) article.

While some experts have speculated about the reasons for the difference in results, perhaps state officials might try a simpler approach — ask the students who actually take the test which format they prefer. If the responses of students preparing for the SAT are any indication, then the choice will be very clear.

"In surveys, students have indicated an overwhelming preference for paper-and-pencil tests over computer-based ones," wrote Cynthia Ward Hemminger, an SAT prep coach.

In fact, according to a survey by Kaplan Test Prep, eight out of 10 students said they wouldn’t want to take the SAT on a computer. Reasons cited for that preference for pencil and paper include concerns over potential technical challenges, typing proficiency, and a desire to work math problems out with pencil and paper.

"Taking tests on the computer to me is tedious," said Daniel Clayton, a high school senior from Uniondale, N.Y., in the 2013 USA Today (McLean, Va.) article that examined the Kaplan Test Prep survey results. "After a while, it starts to wear on you. It can also affect your ability to answer questions later on the exam."