They are small, pastel-covered and harmlessly named.
But they can make hundreds of students’ hearts pound with anxiety.
Walking into classrooms tomorrow morning, students will be confronted by English exams and equipped with nothing but a pencils and pens. Many will be presented with the infamous blue examination booklet in which they will be asked to write essay responses. As test anxiety surges, students will write their name, subject, and class on the thin blue cover and hope for the best.
Blue Books, a product of the Roaring Spring Paper Products company, have been used for Shaker exam essay responses for years. They are provided for extended response portions in tests of all subjects and are dreaded by students everywhere. Shaker teachers can elect to use booklets in their examinations.
Many teachers, including English teacher Chuck Kelly, expect students to use them. “They’re nice to carry around and grade,” said Kelly. “It makes it much more systematic and convenient.” The Blue Books used by Shaker teachers are 7 inches wide and 8.5 inches tall and include 16 wide-ruled pages.
Blue Books are widely used by colleges and universities, where many students are exposed to Blue Book exams for the first time. “We try very hard to make sure students get the same treatment as they will in college,” Kelly said. He uses Blue Books in his examinations.
The Blue Books used at Shaker are manufactured by Roaring Spring Paper Products, based in Pennsylvania. The company’s website states that the company is “one of the largest independently owned producers of school office supplies” and produces “a variety of school and office paper products.”
Blue Books are one of their most popular items. and have been sold by the company for more than 20 years. “We mostly sell to college bookstores,” said Lori Biehl, a customer service representative for the company. “We ship 95-98 percent to college bookstores.”
Sophomore Katrina Weisner recognizes the university connection.
“They make me feel so grown up. It’s like I’m in college” said Weisner. “They’re just easier to write in for me than regular paper.”
However, while Blue Books may be preparing students for life after high school, students such as sophomore Chris Hullett think they are unnecessary and tedious.
“I think Blue Books are horrible,” said Hullett. “It’s a waste of paper when we could just write on the test.”
His objection to the booklets goes beyond environmental concerns.
“The pages are too small, and it’s hard to judge how much writing I’ve done,” Hullett said.
English Teacher Cathleen Lawlor doesn’t require students to use Blue Books. “If they had bigger ones, I would use that,” said Lawlor. “I think kids are used to seeing things in 8.5 x 11 format.”
While Roaring Spring Paper Products offers Blue Books in 8.5 x 11-inch size, Shaker orders only the smaller version. The company also offers books comprising up to 32 pages, and its pastel green-covered Green Books are made of 30 percent recycled material.
The Blue Book’s power over Shaker students may be fading, however.
“It would be nice if we could always type,” Kelly said.
His wish may soon come true. Ohio high school students will soon be required to tackle 10 computer-administered End-of-Course examinations to satisfy Ohio graduation requirements. The class of 2017 will pilot the language arts exam in April. The state tests may replace Shaker teachers’ final exams.
This is just one of the many changes that represent the evolution of the testing process to computer-administered assessments and may spell bad news for Roaring Spring Paper Products.
“I think the trend will go to where they are using more and more technology, ” said Biehl. “Everyone’s going to their iPads and laptops.”
She said, “Over the next three to five years, the demand will get less and less.”