SCHOOLCIO : Preparing for Online Testing in 2014
From New Jersey to Ohio to Washington,
districts are preparing for online testing. We
checked in with a few district-level technology
directors to see where they are in the process.
WHO: Ted Lindquist,
Director of Technology
WHERE: Farmington (CT) Public School
District (www.fpsct.org), which is made up of
seven schools and 4,000 students.
IMPLEMENTATION PLANS: Lindquist
began working on this issue nearly two years ago
by assessing the capacity of his infrastructure.
“I wanted to make sure we could handle online
testing in our buildings and have the capacity to
grow as other things besides online testing come
upon us and take up the pipe,” says Lindquist. He
also started focusing on preparing students for
the online testing environment.
As he evaluated new Internet service
providers, he had three considerations. Each
provider had to be scalable, affordable, and able
to replicate what the state already provided.
Comcast’s Ethernet Network Service (business.
comcast.com/enterprise/services/Data) fit his
needs and offered a turnkey solution. In other
words, “there was no downtime of Internet
service as we switched.”
The district also bought software that
lets teachers create their own online tests so
students can get some much-needed practice.
“We’ve done a little bit of initial testing and see
no problems with our solution,” Lindquist says.
“Children in every building took a test at the
same time, so we know our solution is good.”
WHO: Debbie Karcher,
Officer; Gisela Field,
Research, and Data
Analysis; and Sally
Shay, District Director,
Student Assessment and
WHERE: Miami-Dade County (FL) Public
Schools (www.dadeschools.net)—the country’s
fourth-largest district—comprises 392 schools
and 345,000 students.
IMPLEMENTATION PLANS: The Miami-
Dade Public School system is in its third year
of implementing computer-based assessments.
The statewide FCAT has been rolling out
computer-based tests very gradually. This year,
three end-of-course tests will be administered
online to high school students, along with two
reading assessments for grades 6 and 10. Next year,
elementary students will begin taking the FCAT
on computers. “It’s a huge hurdle,” says Shay. “Our
largest amount of individual schools is elementary.”
Capacity has been an ongoing challenge.
“Identifying the number of computers needed to
test children within a window has been difficult,”
says Field. “In the first year, we had two weeks
for each content area. This year, we have one
week per content area for end-of-course
exams.” The district administers
one session in the morning
and one in the afternoon
(for larger schools) to
cycle students through. They are forced to use
labs that are traditionally used for instructional
purposes and that requires a suspension of
instruction during testing windows.
Miami-Dade uses a couple of different
computer-based assessments, including Edusoft,
for interim assessments. So far, use is limited to
reading and algebra for grades 6 and 10. The district
also administers Florida’s Postsecondary Education
Readiness Test (PERT), a computer-adaptive test
that the state requires high schools to manage. “We
have a large testing window for PERT,” says Field,
“That flexibility helps us immensely.”
A key reason this district has experienced
such a smooth transition into online testing
is the amount of training Shay provides. “The
professional development that Sally’s team does
with test chairs and the technicians who help
schools on test days has been really helpful,” says
Karcher. “Technicians, who are at the schools
during testing, know how to set up machines
and labs.” Before each testing, the testing chairs
receive in-person training. There are separate
breakout sessions led by tech staff in which
everyone at the affected school learns about
requirements and procedures. The technicians
also do a walkthrough with the staff.
In terms of bandwidth, Karcher isn’t
concerned. Her infrastructure was built to manage
lots of bandwidth, and she controls and prioritizes
traffic during testing by not letting students run
videos or other bandwidth-intensive applications.
WHO: George Weeks,
Director of Technology
WHERE: Glassboro (NJ) Public Schools
(www.glassboro.k12.nj.us), which consists of five
schools and 2,309 students.
IMPLEMENTATION PLANS: Glassboro
has a private fiber network and all buildings are
connected with high-speed network connections.
“We share a large fiber ring with our borough and
a local university, so it’s really affordable,” says
Weeks. “In the last four years, we’ve gone from a
15-meg Internet to a 100-meg Internet, and we
reduced the cost by almost 45 percent.”
Since he has a private fiber network, he only
needs one high-speed Internet connection for
the entire district. Everything comes through the
central office server room and goes out through
one Internet pipe.
|Freshmen at Glassboro Public Schools have begun taking the NWEA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test online.
With infrastructure and bandwidth in place,
the problem—as with other districts—lies in
having enough units to accommodate everyone
in one grade at the same time. “I refresh all
computers every four years as part of our rolling
Last month, the district administered its
newly converted, web-based NWEA assessment
for grades 3 through 11. “We need the students to
get used to online assessments,” says Weeks. “I
believe we’re poised to be in great shape to handle
what the state and the feds throw at us. They have
to provide a system that’s comparable to a bank’s
transaction-processing system. I’m not sure the
backend will be robust enough to handle it.”
What’s Happening in California?
“We’re at the first stage—taking inventory,” says Jose Ortega, an administrator in the
Educational Data Management Division of the California Department of Education.
The state has committed to doing six rounds of data collection in the spring and
fall of each year until 2014. In April, districts were invited to take an online survey
about their tech readiness. “There’s no way of telling if someone is ready to deploy
assessments until we have information from this survey. We’ll find out about their
hardware, software, and network capacity,” Ortega says.
When the first window closes in June, the information will be sent to the Partnership
for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC ) and the Smarter
Balanced Assessment Consortium. Those organizations will plug all of the various
states’ data into their systems and come up with specs. “Once we have the specs,
our second data-collection window will help districts see if they are ready to conduct
these kinds of assessments,” says Ortega.