Local educator joins test development group

Shannay Witte, Computer Science Teacher at New England Public School, was afforded a unique opportunity in April. Witte was sent to Princeton, NJ to be part of a working group committee for the Educational Testing Service to help develop a Praxis Test for Computer Science.

Witte
Witte

By RACHEL BOCK | For The Herald

Shannay Witte, Computer Science Teacher at New England Public School, was afforded a unique opportunity in April. Witte was sent to Princeton, NJ to be part of a working group committee for the Educational Testing Service to help develop a Praxis Test for Computer Science.

Educational Testing Service is a well known company that develops, writes, researches, scores, and administers standardized testing for education. Some of these tests the service is known for is the GRE which is a graduate level admissions test, the HiSet which is a high school equivalency exam, and the Praxis Series which are tests taken by people who are going into the teaching profession as part of their certification process.

For every area of teaching, a Praxis test is taken, proving that an educator is qualified to teach in that particular area of education.

However, there was never a Praxis test for computer science and the reason for this, Witte explains, is because the requirements to be a computer science teacher have never been defined. “People who teach computer science will almost always have an education degree in another major and just have course work in computer science” Witte said.

This is why the testing service wanted to develop a Praxis test for computer science, a process however that takes many years.

Developing a Praxis test begins with creating questions, and then they have to test the questions. The committee Witte was a part of is almost at the end of the long process.

“Our committee’s job was to set the cut score, so the test is already developed, the questions have been decided and written and our job was to go through and decide at which point they (the educators) are qualified in, and at which point are they not qualified,” Witte said.

Witte was among 24 others members in her group. Almost half of the members in the group were college professors. The first thing the group had to do was take the computer science Praxis test. While taking the test they had to rate each question on standard testing bubble sheets. The sheets would then be collected and ran through the computer.  The computer would come back and give the committee their results as to what the question was and how that individual scored that particular question, and also how the others in the group scored the question. After the results, each question was discussed and the members were then given a chance to change the way they scored a question. All of this was done in a day-and-a-half. There were several other groups that did the same thing that Witte’s group did, and they averaged the magic cut score across all the other groups.

“It was a really fun process” Witte said.

Witte feels that the questions were a nice balance between hard core computer science questions along with some teaching questions because the test is also geared towards teachers. Witte also had to sign a non disclosure form.

“We can’t tell anybody anything about what was on the test” Witte said.

Witte enjoyed meeting and talking to her other colleagues in her group, and also being part of this unique experience.

“This gave me a good perspective on the kind of things in the computer science field that the nationwide industry thinks are important. The big thing right now in computers is to start teaching coding and programming again” Witte said.

Basic coding and programming is something that she taught when she first began to teach and then years later it seemed computer applications were the new thing to be taught and basic programming was out. Now coding and programming are in demand, so much that there are coding programs for students in Kindergarten and early elementary grades.

“That (programming) is the basis of everything we do.  Every time you touch your phone someone had to write that code. The need for programmers is so great. Once you learn the basic structures of programming, you can apply that to any language, if we just get these kids started in it there are so many things they can do,” Witte said.

Witte was the only one from North Dakota that was chosen to be part of this nationwide committee. Witte’s journey started when she received a phone call at school from Janet Welk, Director of the North Dakota Education Standards and Practices Board.

“She said ‘I have this opportunity we really would like you to represent North Dakota at ETS because they are asking us to send somebody’.

She said when I look through the database you’re the one. You teach more computer science courses than anybody, you have the biggest variety, you’re the one I want,” Witte said.

Witte has been teaching for 26 years, all at New England Public School. She teaches Computer Science, Family and Consumer Sciences, Math and is also the Technology Coordinator at the school. Witte graduated college with a major in Home Economics, and a double minor in math and computer science education.

“Well of course I had coursework in college for my computer science minor, but really in computers most of what you learn, you learn hands on, you learn because you are doing it, and you learn because you stay in the industry and you keep up with it because it’s your area,” Witte said.

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