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Today students in Oregon sit down to take their standardized writing exams. And as I wrote last month, for the first time, they'll be allowed to spell-check their work before submitting their tests.

The decision to allow students to use spell-check caused some outcry - the usual "kids these days" and "uphill, both ways" sorts of responses. "How will kids ever learn to spell?!"

But as OPB's Rob Manning reports, many students in Oregon will take their writing exams without using spell-check -- because they won't be taking the tests on computers.

Oregon has piloted an online version of the writing exam for the past year, and the addition of the spell-check option is part of this. However, most students taking the exam today will still do so with a pencil and paper.

As David Douglas High School English teacher Michelle Wood argues, this could give an advantage to the minority of students who do get to take their exams online. "It's like comparing apples and oranges," she told OPB. "You can't compare a student who's taking a paper-pencil test to a student who's typed up a test and had any sort of technological advances like spell-check, for example. I don't think it's fair, if it's the way we're going to be compared to other districts, if we weren't even allowed that option."

State officials do note that those taking their exams "the old fashioned way" do have access to a dictionary. And the online spell-check only highlights misspelled words. It doesn't correct them, and it doesn't check grammar and punctuation.

David Douglas High School will not be offering students the ability to take their tests online. The school simply doesn't have the technology resources to offer the tests to its students this way. And several other schools that do have the requisite number of computers for testing are finding that running students through this week's exams means that the computers won't be available for instruction. Still others are reluctant to move their students to online test-taking if the students aren't already comfortable with using the technology.

Schools face federal sanctions if too few students pass their state reading and math exams, and so many educators are concerned that schools without the technology resources might find themselves at a disadvantage.

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Audrey Watters


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