Teachers and students across the country will be saying goodbye to fill-in-the-bubble paper and pencil tests soon in states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).
As discussed in a recent post on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the guidelines mandate that assessments be administered digitally beginning with the 2014 school year. While that may seem eons away for the average third-grader, for many educational technologists, IT departments, teachers and district leaders, it feels a bit like a high-speed train headed straight for them. Many schools face technology challenges as they gear up to meet the demands of district-wide digital testing.
What technology do K-12 districts need for Common Core tests?
As districts contemplate their technology needs for the future, one of their chief concerns is how to outfit their schools with enough PCs to ensure that all students can take the online tests. To ease districts’ concerns, the Partnership for Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced) issued technology-purchasing guidelines for districts on April 25.
The intent is to give districts a roadmap as they consider what to buy for their schools in the next two school years―and to see what equipment already meets the technology specifications. (According to the consortia, technology purchased now will be compatible with next-generation assessments.)
Below is a quick look at the minimum requirements:
- 1GHz or faster processor
- 1 GB RAM or greater memory
- 9.5 inch (10 inch class) or larger screen size
- 1024 x 768 or better screen resolution
- Windows 7
- Mac 10.7
- Linux (Ubuntu 11.10, Fedora 16)
- Chrome OS
- Apple iOS
- Android 4.0
- Wired or wireless Internet connection
- Desktops, laptops, netbooks, think client and tablets that meet the hardware, OS and networking specifications
It should be noted that the above are only minimum requirements. It’s important to consider the specific features of the devices and how you need to manage and set them up for testing. Tablets, for example, offer cameras and other screen-capture features that need to be shut down in a testing environment, notes Pearson’s Bryan Bleil.
“High-stakes assessment engines need to be able to control and shut off student access to other applications, such as browsers, IM clients, non-approved calculators, and other content that may be available on a tablet for instructional purposes,” he adds.
Where can states find more information?
The tech specs published April 25 are not the final statement on technical requirements that will be necessary to administer assessments in 2014-2015. For districts more concerned about whether their legacy technology will be able to support the online tests, PARCC and Smarter Balanced will answer this question and other technology questions about bandwidth, test system security and processor capacity in future guidelines.
But for districts really in panic mode, the consortia also assured schools that a pencil-and-paper option will be available for three years.
Currently, the organizations are working with states to inventory their “technology readiness” in order to create a more comprehensive and final list of technical requirements with assistance from the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA). Baseline data is currently being collected and will be updated twice annually through 2014 to provide detailed information on technology and infrastructure readiness.
You can access the full purchasing guidelines via these links:
- Smarter Balanced Consortium New Hardware Purchasing Guidelines
- Technology Guidance for PARCC Assessments
Why use online tests?
The Common Core website assures educators that the purpose of assessment is not to create more tests, but rather to: “… make it easier for states to pool information and resources to develop a shared set of high-quality tests to better evaluate student progress.”
While the prospect of district-wide online testing may give IT administrators a few gray hairs, the obvious advantage of online testing is the immediate feedback that can be used to help improve student performance and makes it easier to consolidate data and compare student performance across state lines. That said, some states have already pushed back on implementing the Common Core and accompanying assessments with concerns that they represent national involvement in local decision making.
Until these tests are fully implemented, it will be difficult to measure the real value of digital administration. However, it’s clear that the Common Core Standards and, specifically the requirements for online assessments, are changing the game of test-taking forever.
How is your district gearing up for Common Core testing? Tell us what you think of online testing and how it’s being deployed in your district.
What are schools that have implemented 1-to-1 learning initiatives now experiencing? Evidence suggests they are outperforming peers, and even saving money. Consider the results these schools have achieved after prioritizing expanded student access to computers.