Will school computers be able to handle new testing technology?

Schools in about 25 states set to roll out new online standardized tests in the next two years can now find out whether the computers they have on hand will be able to handle the new technology. The state-led Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium released guidelines on Tuesday with specific requirements for devices.

The consortium, which is one of two groups receiving federal funding to develop tests that match the Common Core State Standards, said that in addition to computers, iPads, Android tablets, and Chromebooks running on newer operating systems will be able to be used for testing. All devices must have a 10” screen, a keyboard, internet access, and the ability to disable features that could be used to cheat during the test.

Some school officials have worried about whether current technology will be enough to handle new tests, or if schools will be forced to find the means to upgrade. In addition to the specific requirements released by the SMARTER coalition, the non-profit State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) also put out guidelines that outline how schools should prepare in order to administer tests beginning in the 2014-15 school year. SETDA has worked with both SMARTER and a second test developer, The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, to gauge how prepared districts are for the new tests. In total, the two groups represent 44 states and Washington, D.C. that will adopt online testing by 2014.

According to the SETDA guidelines, schools that have purchased technology recently, especially mobile or portable devices, will most likely be able to implement online testing easily. But the guidelines bring into question how feasible online testing will be for all schools, especially those with older technology and smaller budgets. SETDA warns that schools spending less than 5 percent of their budgets on technology will have trouble meeting existing and future needs for online testing. And additional money will also most likely be needed for technology coaches, technical support personnel, software, and new computers or tablets as older ones wear down.

At least 33 states are already offering one or more state tests through technology, with challenges and varying levels of success. Chaos ensued when Wyoming switched to online testing in 2010, leading to a lawsuit against Pearson, the company hired to administer the test. But some experts contend that online testing will prepare students for 21st century jobs, and can help teachers. “Adaptive testing is really beneficial and can pinpoint a student’s learning level more closely,” Gerri Marshall, supervisor of research and evaluation for a Wilmington, Del. school district that piloted digital testing, told Education Week.

POSTED BY Jackie Mader ON December 5, 2012

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Brian Preston

In a suburban New York county, usually perceived to be middle to high income, several school districts will not be ready to do online testing by 2014. I’m estimating one in every four or five districts do not have the staff who could manage the increased requirements they face. The public funding simply isn’t there to outsource tech support and to purchase enough hardware to test grade 3-8 in any reasonable time period, and the technology infrastructure is likewise lacking. There is inadequate power in buildings for the number of computers required, and in some cases also inadequate power to recharge laptops needed to test hundreds of students over short periods of time. Upgrading the power into buildings is likely to cost more than purchasing hardware. There is inadequate bandwidth for all students to be online at the same time. Moreover, the cost to upgrade bandwidth and network infrastructure to and within buildings is significant. With a cap on tax rates now in effect in New York and many rural districts already anticipating bankruptcy in 2 or 3 years, there is no practical solution for several districts in my region–cutting teachers and programs in already marginally performing districts in order to upgrade technology is a death spiral under the accountability regulations–not a positive option, and there’s nothing left to cut.

The PARCC Consortium is not proposing computer adaptive testing as are the Smarter Balanced folks. I like CA testing because it can provide meaningful support for future instruction and gives a more accurate measure of where a student is at. But using the results to evaluate teachers defeats the instructional improvement purpose in states proposing to do so.

And what reliable research demonstrates the efficacy of allocating 5% of a school district budget to technology as useful in educating students? This is a notion promoted by business and industry and corporations that stand to gain from selling product. There’s little to no evidence of the effectiveness of such expenditures on the academic success of K-12 students.

Online testing makes the cost of the test itself cheaper (because the feds are paying for the test development) and the return of results faster, but overall the cost to public budgets will be significantly higher that the old-fashioned paper and pencil variety. Clearly,profiteers developed this process without regard to the economics of school funding and politicians bought into it. School business managers do not–nor do Superintendents, who see the fiscal impacts ruining their ability to fund responsible classroom teaching.

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