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Nearly fifty years ago, the pioneering Scantron Corporation introduced Scantron bubble sheet forms along with a Scantron grader (scanner) to the field of education. The premise was fairly simple, although the idea was truly revolutionary for its time. Scantron developed and sold basic preprinted bubble sheet templates with a series of A-B-C-D-E-type multiple choice answer bubbles. Teachers and students could then simply use the needed parts of the form and leave any remaining parts blank. Generally, a school would share a single Scantron grader – a proprietary piece of equipment that would scan the bubble Scantron sheets – and teachers would use it to automatically grade their student answer forms during their free time. The Scantron grader system subsequently went on to achieve such tremendous success that their name became synonymous with scannable bubble sheets.
Of course, over time, many other brands have entered the “scan and score” marketplace with bubble sheets and bubble form scanners of their own, both evolving and innovating the test grader technology in a variety of significant ways. Nonetheless, “bubble scantron” or “scantron bubble sheet” is often the default label given to any scannable bubble form technology for teachers. This categoric naming phenomenon is much like how facial tissue is commonly referred to as Kleenex – whether or not the product reference is actually meant to be brand-specific. It is always important, however, not to confuse products like scannable test solutions with individual brands like Scantron, as their capabilities and costs can differ greatly from one product to another.
Most “scantron” bubble sheet assessment offerings share a common ability to use some type of basic multiple-choice answer sheets for students that allow teachers to scan and score their test responses automatically. Unfortunately, in many cases, special “scantron grader equipment” and “scantron bubble sheet” forms must be purchased in order to make the system work. This, of course, is in addition to any software purchases and service contracts, which can also increase costs both up front and long term. However, it is often the amount of set-up and training required to get educators up and running that is particularly challenging. Even if a system can save time in the long run, a heavy investment of time upfront can be daunting and difficult to accommodate for teachers who are already struggling with heavy workloads.
Some easy grader solutions are certainly more flexible than others, and it’s worth taking the time to fully understand any new system’s startup requirements, capabilities, compatibilities, associated costs, and professional development expectations before choosing a product. The more flexibility and functionality, the better. Among the many things to consider is whether or not special proprietary equipment and/or forms are required. This isn’t strictly an issue of cost either. It is also a potential risk of experiencing significant downtime should the scanning equipment breakdown or supplies run low. Better test graders will offer differing degrees of customization and allow for a variety of question and answer type options. And ideal grading solutions will include additional functionality above and beyond “bubble scantron” grading, like automated report generation, standards tracking, and grade transfer capabilities.
GradeCam expands upon the original bubble sheet, or “scantron grader,” model in many unique and innovative ways. Not only does it allow answer types like traditional multiple-choice and true/false, but it also allows the bubble contents themselves to be completely customized (e.g. A-E-I-O-U). Additionally, GradeCam enables number grids, an array of teacher-completed rubric answer types (e.g. diagrams, graphs, performances, etc.), and even handwritten alphanumeric responses. Yes. Handwritten responses! This particular answer type option opens the door for a host of student responses like fill-in-the-blank, matching, math solutions, spelling, and other short answer formats. But perhaps best of all, GradeCam answer sheets can be printed on regular paper, added to existing worksheets, printed as multiples on a page, and even laminated for repeated uses (e.g. daily quizzes) and then scanned using any mobile, computer, or document camera. No new equipment or forms to buy!
GradeCam also enables teachers to link questions to one or more existing or custom standards, which is enormously helpful for both teaching and tracking purposes. Once the answer sheets have been scored, GradeCam generates robust reporting with flexible sorting and sharing options. Then it completely automates the grade recording process by transferring grades into any existing digital gradebook – including Excel spreadsheets. All it takes is the touch of a button! GradeCam even offers a student portal function that allows students to scan and score their own answer sheets for instant “grade-only” or “missed item” feedback, as determined by the teacher. Each of these capabilities is a timesaver on its own, and together they are enormously beneficial. And unlike other “scantron grader-like” solutions, GradeCam makes getting setup and started fast and easy to ensure minimal professional development for teachers and administrators alike.