The Time is Now

Tech procurement and the next generation assessments.

GUEST COLUMN | by Roscoe Anthony

CREDIT LouisianaBelieves.comThese are unprecedented times in education. Not only are new standards changing how instruction is delivered in the classroom, but they are also creating what could be the largest technology spending spree in the history of education. Those late to the gate might find themselves unable to meet the requirements dictated for testing.

Testing will now be multimedia-based and completed on computers and handheld devices such as tablets.

For better or worse, the Common Core State Standards will make education more uniform across the country. No longer will a child in Idaho be expected to learn at a completely different pace and level than one in New Jersey. Starting now, uniformity will come with some growing pains.

That also includes testing.

Both testing consortia that were formed by groups of states to administer the new, next-generation assessments, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced, have committed to providing a fair and uniform testing experience for every student in the country.

They have also focused on updating assessment for these technological times in which we live. Testing will now be multimedia-based and completed on computers and handheld devices such as tablets. Videos, sounds, and interactive test items will be commonplace, meaning students will need headphones and headsets in order to avoid disturbing other students.

In this report, we seek to highlight the critical needs of schools and districts nationwide regarding these key pieces of hardware and the coming tests. What are the requirements for the new assessments? What if a school or district’s technology isn’t up to the task? Finally, we make a case for just how large this market will be in the coming year and why it’s important for your district to solve these problems now.

The requirements

The consortium in which your state belongs goes a long way towards defining the technology requirements for your district or school. Overall, the requirements vary only slightly, with Smarter Balanced being more descriptive in the needs for their tests.

Both consortia are quite specific about what they expect in a testing workstation. For the most part, it fits the general profile of what exists in schools today. As a baseline, survey data published by Smarter Balanced in their Tech Framework report showed that the typical school computer is a Windows XP-based desktop or laptop that is connected to the Internet through a 10 mbps connection. Not surprisingly, that is Smarter Balanced’s baseline requirement for a testing computer.

The browser specs are where things get tricky. Both say they will play well with the OS-specific browsers, Internet Explorer for Windows and Safari for Mac, and both will support Firefox. Java does need to be updated to the latest version no matter what browser you will be using. Smarter Balanced is actually releasing secure versions of browsers for their purposes, so check their website prior to testing.

A possible procurement bottleneck might be in memory upgrades. Only 63% of school computers have the recommended 1gb of internal memory, leaving a third of computers in need of a possible upgrade.

It’s worth mentioning that both PARCC and Smarter Balanced agree on the testing components in which headphones will be used. English/Language Arts assessments will have audio components where students will need to hear prompts and passages. Also, students with visual impairments that require text to speech technology will require headphones for the entire test. Full headsets with a microphone will be needed for students who require speech to text accommodations.

School districts tend to buy headsets in bulk, made of the least durable components in order to lessen costs. They quickly fall into a state of disrepair. What was once a class set might only cover half the class one year into their life cycle.

As we move toward next year’s testing cycle, it is wise to regularly check the technology pages for PARCC and Smarter Balanced for updates regarding their requirements and what is happening with testing across the country.

The current state of school technology 

Because very few schools offer a 1:1 student/computer ratio, it can be assumed that every available computer will be used during a school’s testing cycle. Each of those computers needs a set of reliable headphones in order to meet the device requirements of the testing consortia. Although headset status figures aren’t available, let’s look at the current standing of one state’s device infrastructure and how it stacks up to a consortium’s device readiness standards, including available headsets. Louisiana is a PARCC member state.

……………………………………………………………………………….

Louisiana PARCC Device Readiness

Total computer devices: 232,692

Number that meets recommended readiness standards: 82,754

Number of students in Louisiana: 727,594

Student/device ratio: 8.8:1

Number of school districts (out of 69) with enough devices for testing: 32

Source: Louisiana’s Technology Footprint report

……………………………………………………………………………….

Assuming a 6-hour testing day, it will take the state 11.72 days to complete the test. That is a lot of disrupted instructional time. Procurement of additional resources is necessary to protect the balance of the school year.

Planning ahead

Louisiana is just one state out of 40 moving toward the high tech, multimedia assessments. Assuming similar device readiness figures across the country, hundreds of districts will be rushing to complete their preparations in time for next year’s rollout of the PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments. Device preparedness, including internal memory as well as headphones and headsets for appropriate students, is not optional.

Requirements like these, implemented on close to a national scale, equate to what could be the largest educational technology spending spree since the personal computer became ubiquitous in schools over 30 years ago. Districts and schools who wait too long run the risk of having to make uncomfortable decisions about how testing will take place in their schools or, worse, not being able to meet their testing requirements at all.

……………………………………………………………………………….

What to Look for in an Educational Headset:

  • Microphone, to ensure compliance with future assessment versions
  • Ability to be used with mobile devices and tablets
  • Noise reduction (for better concentration in testing environment)
  • Volume control
  • Multi-year warranty
  • Compliance with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008

……………………………………………………………………………….

Roscoe Anthony is President of Califone International, Inc., a leader in educational technology applications and a division of School Specialty, Inc., a premier distributor of innovative and proprietary products, programs and services to the education marketplace. Write to: roscoe.anthony@califone.com  Visit: www.schoolspecialty.com

This entry was posted in guest column and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s