Part 2: Technology Infrastructure Needs for PARCC and Smarter Balanced online assessments
One of the biggest challenges that districts are facing is how to prepare for the upcoming mandated PARCC and Smarter Balanced online exams from a technological standpoint. Sure, practically all schools now have a certain amount of computers or hand-held devices and a certain amount of bandwidth to support their use by students when working online while at school But teachers, administrators, and district techs all need to be considering planning and preparing for the level of bandwidth their schools and districts will need once they begin logging in hundreds of students (even thousands for larger districts) simultaneously to take the PARCC and Smarter Balanced mandated exams in the fall of 2014.
According to a 2011 study by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), only 22% of school districts who responded to their survey stated they have adequate bandwidth for their current online student needs. The likelihood of advanced media-rich assessment items that will be part of the coming PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments will only multiply the need for schools to increase their bandwidth. If districts don’t plan well enough in advance they could face very tough decisions. For example, if they see that their infrastructure just can’t handle all students testing during the same mandated testing window in an online capacity, they may feel they have to resort to having some students test online and others test through the traditional paper-pencil format. This type of decision can make overall test validity and reliability problematic in regards to comparability of the results. Districts need to be sure they are able to make a full transition from a technological standpoint when the time comes.
Such decisions on when and how to increase the bandwidth forces the issues of cost and in turn equity to all students. The bandwidth needs coupled with the needs many districts currently have with attaining updated computers and devices will surely force districts to make some very tough budgeting decisions in at least the short-term. There are certain core questions that districts need to begin asking themselves such as:
- Will outdated computers and devices be able to support the advanced media-rich items coming?
- Does each of our schools have enough computers and hand-held devices available to support mass student online testing during a specified testing window?
- How often are computers and devices going to need to be refreshed with enhanced multi-media assessments?
Many of these issues and questions currently can’t be answered yet. Since the pilot exams through PARCC and Smarter Balanced won’t be administered to volunteer schools and districts until this spring, we will have to wait and see. Hopefully, lessons learned by those schools and districts piloting these advanced online assessments this spring will benefit all the participating districts and states for the even larger and more accountable roll-out in the fall of 2014.