School of Education at UMass Amherst Receives Two Grants to Develop Tests for the Future

AMHERST, Mass. - The Center for Educational Assessment in the University of Massachusetts School of Education has received grants totaling over $500,000 to develop new ways of administering tests via computers.

The first grant, from the Microsoft Corporation, will allow professors Ronald Hambleton, Stephen Sireci, and Hariharan Swaminathan to evaluate and improve current testing methods used by the computer giant. The second grant, from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), is specifically aimed at revising the organization''s certification test so that it can be administered via computers within the next five years.

"Computer-based tests are becoming increasingly common, and will have a growing impact in the future," says Sireci. "We hope to assist Microsoft and the AICPA in making sure these 21st century tests are accurate and fair for selecting professionals who have the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to earn these valuable credentials."

Sireci says that computers should help to simplify and streamline the testing process for administrators by presenting real-world tasks to examinees and by reducing problems associated with paper-and-pencil tests such as stolen exam booklets.

He does say, however, that computer-based testing could potentially pose a number of problems. For example, tests administered on a computer tend to be expensive to develop and administer, which means higher testing fees for examinees. In addition, in some cases, familiarity with a certain type of computer may have an unintended impact on test performance for some examinees.

In being chosen to receive the two grants, the University is involved in a process that will have an impact on millions of test-takers around the world, says Sireci. Not only will the University be directly involved in the credentialing process of thousands of CPAs each year, it also will be indirectly involved in testing prospective practitioners of a variety of other professions, as well as students in both the nation''s undergraduate and graduate classrooms. According to Sireci, Microsoft tests over a million candidates in 72 countries around the world each year. He says that the Uniform CPA Exam is the second-largest professional licensure examination in the U.S. (second only to the nursing exam), and is administered to about 140,000 candidates annually.