It will take at least two years to introduce e-exams
The Ministry of Education and Research and the Education and Youth Board say that it will take at least another two years to develop the e-examinations system, with more surveys and user testing in order first. Electronic high school examinations will have to be ready by 2027.
"Developing the e-examinations model is a long-term process, with the first project deadline in the spring of 2025," Ülle Matsin, head of the general education department at the Education Ministry, told ERR. She said that several organizational matters need to be taken care of before e-exams can be adopted.
For example, it needs to be decided whether people can take e-exams with their own computers, how many people need to be in the room and their roles, as well as how quickly would it be possible to have e-exam results compared to traditional ones. Exams for different subjects also need different rules.
"Switching to electronic exams requires developing different grading tools or e-tests and examinations and putting together a new examination system. The Education and Youth Board has been working on the former with help from the European Social Fund since 2017. Schools have been trying out e-tests since then. We are entering a new stage now as work is starting on e-examination organization models and testing. Various test exams were held in pilot schools in March and April," Matsin said.
The test exams were for Estonian, Estonian as a second language and English. Both the grading tools and the organization process will be evaluated over the summer, with new tests planned for early 2024.
E-exams not difficult for schools and students
Matsin said that preliminary results suggest schools and students hardly find e-exams to be novel or difficult. "Students have been taking electronic tests for years, whether in the form of PISA testing, satisfaction surveys, e-standard-determining tests, high school entry exams, e-libraries and diagnostic tools," she remarked.
"Just like their standard counterparts, electronic examinations will be based on national curricula, meaning that no special kind of preparation is needed. Students and teachers have had contact with the EIS examination information system's forms and how to navigate it for years," Matsin added.
She said that the first e-standard determining tests have been held since 2016, while teachers have been using e-depositories and other electronic grading tools since 2019.
"Therefore, students and teachers should be experienced when it comes to electronic grading. However, exams also have different organizational aspects, with relevant development and testing still underway."
A novel technical solution was tested this spring that makes it impossible to use the internet for other purposes than those of the exam when taking it. "We were satisfied with the result in the broad strokes, while we're also weighing alternatives," Matsin said.
A part of exam tasks would be machine-graded, while others have to be checked by humans based on a set of guidelines. Because the ministry has received very detailed feedback from testers, grading manuals will be complemented. "We also played around with exams duration and the need for breaks. We'll have more detailed information this fall."
Schools were also asked to evaluate their computers, internet speed and other technological aspects, with relevant questionnaires to be sent in by May 15. "We will then contact schools to ask for further details if necessary. The aim is to map the technical readiness of schools and have models for how students could take e-exams in the future," Matsin said.
"We are busy analyzing the results and putting together a summary. We want the e-exams system to be maximally flexible and are looking for examinee-centric solutions, testing out various aspects and scenarios. That is why it is too soon to say how e-exams will work."
Public debate coming
Asked when a public debate might be launched over the organizational side of electronic exams, Matsin said it should begin at the end of 2023 when the first test results have been analyzed and improvements made.
"We will be complementing the model based on test results and feedback, which effort will be continuous. We will showcase and discuss the models based on feedback from schools with them," the ministry spokesperson said.
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Editor: Marcus Turovski