Cardiff Software, Inc. Helps New South Wales Board of Studies Earn an A+

With the number of students sitting for its public examinations increasing every year, the New South Wales Board of Studies located in Sydney, Australia, needed a scalable solution to high volume test processing.

The New South Wales Board of Studies has shown excellent foresight in using cutting edge technology from Cardiff Software to automate the capture of over 29 million examination student responses and marks and selecting a system that can be easily expanded to meet increased volume in the future.

The Business
The New South Wales (NSW) Board of Studies located in Sydney, Australia, was established in 1990 to serve government and non-government schools in the development of school education for years K-12. It provides educational leadership by developing quality curriculum and awarding secondary school credentials, which students need in order to apply to a university.

During November of each year, the NSW Board of Studies manages the administration of the School Certificate (year 10 students) and the Higher School Certificate (HSC) examinations (year 12 students). Each student takes an array of tests that match his or her course of study, with English, Mathematics and Science taken by the majority of all students. Individual examinations can contain a mixture of objective responses, short answer and essay questions.

Like American college entrance exams, the HSC is required for the university application process. However, the tests encompassing the HSC exams are much more comprehensive than its U.S. counterpart and are intended to measure achievement rather than aptitude. There are, in fact, a total of 350 different examination papers for 136 courses. Each student may sit on average 7 separate HSC exams, depending on his or her course of study. The less demanding School Certificate examinations are designed to give "greater meaning and purpose to Year 10 study, promoting continuity between Years 10 and 11 . . . and raising standards and student expectations." (Excerpted from the "New South Wales HSC and School Certificate Media Guide.")

The Challenge
Before 1998, the manual process of capturing and scoring approximately one million School Certificate and HSC answer sheets and mark sheets was extremely slow and expensive. By law, test scores had to be tallied and reported within six weeks of the testing dates. To meet this deadline, 7 data entry bureaus were contracted to manually key in the marks from the mark sheets.

Recognizing that the manual process was slow, a 1996 feasibility report recommended the following goals for improving the processing and scoring of School Certificate and HSC examinations.
  • Deliver long term cost savings over manual data entry
  • Reduce the burden of administering data entry bureaus
  • Improve support to staff
  • Fast access to accurate test score data
The Solution (1997)
Following the recommendations to the 1996 feasibility report, the NSW Board of Studies decided to pilot an automated solution from U.S.-based Cardiff Software. Using Cardiff TELEform®, the board would have a complete integrated solution for form design, scanning, processing, verifying, printing and data export.

Using the point and click TELEform Form Designer, the Board designed its own forms and produced high-quality, personalized answer sheets for the School Certificate and HSC examinations. Because of the flexibility offered by TELEform, the Board was able to use a combination of response types in designing the answer sheets. Though TELEform automates the processing of hand print (ICR), machine print (OCR), bar codes, check marks and bubbles (OMR), the New South Wales examinations primarily involved choice bubbles hand print and numeric responses.

Short answers and essays are marked using a standardized numeric rating system on marking sheets that are also processed by TELEform. In all cases, forms are scanned in batches of 500 at a central location and processed by TELEform using pre-set business rules. TELEform automatically converts student responses and marks into online data, routing questionable responses and characters to an operator at a "Verification" workstation.

Distributed in Australia through Sydney-based distributor CaptureIT, the Cardiff TELEform solution was adopted across all of New South Wales in 1998 after the huge success of the pilot system in 1997.

Cardiff Software, Inc.