Assessment Resource Center has all the answers for MU

Tuesday, December 22, 2009 | 4:44 p.m. CST; updated 4:51 p.m. CST, Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Answer sheets wait to be processed at the Assessment Resource Center (ARC) in Columbia on Dec. 7. ARC uses optical mark and image scanning to process projects with a scanning capacity of up to 38,000 sheets per hour.

COLUMBIA — Aaron McGee scans exams for a living. As a senior computer operator at the Assessment Resource Center, he has done this for more than 22 years.

Whenever an MU student takes an exam that involves a bubble-in answer sheet, it has likely been through the hands of McGee and through the pink-tiled halls of the ARC on Maguire Boulevard.


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“It’s a fairly straightforward, mechanical process,” said Associate Director Tim Parshall, who has also worked at the ARC for 22 years.

After students hand in their exams, the scanning process goes like this:

  1. The professor takes the stacks of answer sheets to room 112 in Townsend Hall.
  2. A van from the Assessment Resource Center picks up the exams from Townsend Hall each day, Monday through Friday, at noon.
  3. The exams are delivered to the ARC and taken into a scanning room, where McGee uses one of five high-speed scanners to scan in the exams.
  4. Results are sent back to the professor via a secure Web site.

McGee said that if a professor has the exams to Townsend Hall by noon, the scores will likely be sent to the professor by the next day.

The professors also receive an item analysis with the results, showing a breakdown of how many students chose each possible answer on multiple-choice questions. This can reveal possible errors on the test by showing, for example, that a majority of students bubbled in the same wrong answer. Parshall said there could be a problem with the question or with the answer key; it's also possible that most of the students just got the question wrong. Parshall said he’s heard of professors throwing out a question based on the item analysis.

Scanning exams for MU is only a slice of the duties staffers at the Assessment Resource Center handle. They also scan in the end-of-semester class evaluations students fill out every semester.

The ARC is also responsible for scanning in standardized tests for all the elementary, middle and high schools in the state of Missouri.

In addition, clients from all across the country send in surveys on different topics to be scanned in for data.

Parshall said that finals weeks are among the busiest for the ARC and that April through June is their busiest season.

During final exam weeks, McGee said he generally works eight-hour shifts and scans in about 80,000 exams in a day. He is not the only person scanning them. Parshall said there are usually three employees scanning exams and, during busy weeks, they sometimes enlist one or two extra sets of hands for scanning.

The image scanner McGee uses has two little dinosaur stickers on the front of it. Parshall said that sometimes when answer sheets from elementary schools arrive at the ARC, they have surprises on them.

When the scanner notices an abnormality on the answer sheet, it stops automatically so McGee can look at the sheet. In the case of the stickers, McGee peeled them off and rescued the dinosaurs, giving them a new home on the scanner.


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