Will districts be tech ready to administer the nation’s new assessments?
The Race to the Top Assessment
program is ambitious and has the
potential to help make far-reaching
changes not only in how students are
assessed, but also in how teachers
teach and students learn. One
important feature shared by both the PARCC
and Smarter Balanced assessment systems is
that student assessments will be technology-driven.
About two-thirds of states currently
deliver one or more state tests via technology.
For many schools and districts, however,
the shift to computer-based assessment for
the majority of students will be new. There are
compelling advantages to technology-based
assessment systems, when compared to current
paper-and-pencil approaches. Chief among
these advantages is the ability to capture more
robust data about student knowledge, skills,
and abilities across the full range of content
standards through interactive items that can
be reliably scored for a low cost. Technology-based
assessment can also ensure that results
are made available to educators and students
in time to intervene and adjust instruction for
students who are having difficulty. Additionally,
technology-based assessments can be a
marked improvement over paper-based tests
for ensuring security of both test items and
student responses. Indeed, if the aim is to
implement better tests with higher college-and
career-ready standards, it is sound policy to
accelerate the trend toward technology-based
Yet, in the absence of direct federal support
for the technology needs of districts and schools
for the nation’s new assessments, the following
important questions arise:
■ Can school technology investments
in etextbooks and digital learning be
leveraged for assessment?
■ Will this shift disadvantage students who
do not have access to technology outside
■ Will schools be able to accommodate
both instructional and assessment needs
■ Most significantly, will schools be
‘technology-ready’ to administer next
These questions — and particularly the
last — cannot be answered with a simple yes
or no for a number of reasons. First, the nation
lacks comprehensive, actionable data on school
technology access (this is an issue that the
PARCC Consortia are helping to address).
Second, even without high-quality data, it is
clear there are vast differences among school
districts across the country in terms of how they
have deployed technology in the past and how
they are implementing improvements as an
engine of school reform.
The ability of the nation’s schools to
administer the next generation of assessments
hangs in the balance.
Technology for testing:
For the initial year of test implementation,
the Consortia have set a highly flexible— and
arguably low—bar for the adoption of the
technology necessary to run the tests. This was
done to accommodate the range of technology
currently available in schools and the anticipated
access students will have to it.
In general, the Consortia have pledged to
support nearly every major computer operating
system on the market today in a variety of forms
(e.g., desktops, laptops, and tablets)—provided
that the screen size is sufficient and the system
is able to run peripheral devices that may be
required. This has required the Consortia
to pay special attention to interoperability,
security, and accessibility for students with
Moreover, the Consortia have pledged
to support legacy technology that exists in
schools, some of which is more than a decade
old. For instance, schools will be permitted to
use desktop computers and laptops that rely on
Microsoft Windows XP, even though support
for XP (e.g., security patches and updates) will
cease on April 9, 2014. A primary reason for this
is that more than half of the computers reported
in the online PARCC -Smarter Balanced
Technology Readiness Tool are running
The Readiness Tool, a survey device
created by Pearson under a contract with
both Consortia, with advice from the State
Educational Technology Directors Association,
contains data on more than six million devices
in use in American schools as of Spring 2013.
Requiring those devices to be upgraded or
replaced by the 2014-2015 school year would be
difficult both financially and politically.
Beyond Device Access
With the Consortia’s Technology Readiness
Tool, districts in participating states can
calculate technology readiness for the new
assessments based on the following five
■ Number of eligible testing devices,
■ Internet bandwidth to a building,
■ Network connectivity within a building,
■ The number of students to be tested
■ The length of the test and testing window.
Within these factors there are a number of
considerations that warrant special mention.
They are as follows:
External and Internal Bandwidth: Many districts, particularly those in rural areas,
report they lack adequate bandwidth at schools.
However, many districts lack the tools and
sophistication necessary to determine the extent
of the problem because there are many variables
that can affect it. Key factors include the age
of the district’s or school’s servers, the traffic
load on different parts of a district’s network,
what devices are used, determining whether
operations are wired or wireless, and locating the
router in relation to the room(s) where testing
will be done. The State Educational Technology
Directors Association recommends that schools
take advantage of free online broadband
speed testing tools to help diagnose these and
related issues. (For more information, see this
association’s commissioned paper, which has
evaluated a number of these tools: www.setda.org/web/guest/schoolspeedtests).
Technical Support: As states move to new
assessment systems, teachers, administrators,
and students must have confidence that the
technology will work for the assessments so
they can focus on what is important—students
demonstrating their knowledge and skills.
Preparing the devices and infrastructure for
the assessments by installing a secure browser
or applications, for example, and testing each
to ensure they are in working order, will take
time and expertise. And if a computer breaks
or a network goes down, districts must have
adequate personnel and back-up devices so that
disruptions are minimal.
Professional Development: All teachers
of students in grades that will be assessed, as
well as other test administrators, will need to be
trained on how the assessment system works,
how to ensure students are correctly logged onto
the system, and how to proctor the exams.
A much more difficult professional
development task will be ensuring that teachers
employ the very different pedagogies demanded
by the Common Core standards. A key element
of these pedagogies is seamless integration of
technology throughout instruction to solve
complex problems and demonstrate mastery
in ways similar to the assessments. While this
is often not considered a part of technology
readiness considerations, there may be no
greater threat to readiness than the preparation
of teachers to teach the Common Core
Given the compelling advantages of a
technology-based assessment system as
compared to paper-and-pencil approaches,
schools and districts will need to ensure they are
technologically ready for the 2014-2015 school
More importantly, technology readiness for
assessment is not separate from readiness for
instruction and learning. In that light, it is not a
destination for school districts, but an ongoing
process that is vital for 21st-century education.
Many districts will be ready when the
assessments are administered the first time,
and some may bridge their readiness gap with
a paper-and-pencil approach for a few more
years. Yet as districts move forward, there is
no question that it will take a concerted effort
and focused leadership to ensure that all K-12
students are provided the opportunity to learn
and demonstrate their learning with tools that
are already commonplace in both colleges and
workplaces across America.
Reprinted with permission from the K12
The Tech Director’s Checklist for Common
Core State Standards
By Craig Williams
Here is a quick checklist for tech directors for assessment testing
to prepare for the Common Core State Standards. This list was
created during my preparation for the PARCC test in Illinois, and it
is by no means exhaustive. The following 12 tips will be helpful as
1. Do you have enough bandwidth to connect to the Internet? The PARCC and
Smarter Balance sites have a list of these requirements.
2. Do you have enough bandwidth between your schools and the data center?
3. Do the computing devices for the test have at minimum 10” screens and keyboards?
4. Do you have headphones for every device you are planning to use?
5. Is your state giving all sections of the test on the computer? This will help
with your capacity planning.
6. How many students in each grade per building will be taking the test?
7. Will your state or district require that all students from a specific grade take
the test on the same day? This will affect how many computing devices you
8. Does your district want to test all students within a certain time of the day
(e.g., will everyone be tested before lunch)? This will also affect how many
computing devices you need.
9. Will your wireless network be able to handle a mass concentration of
devices (e.g., up to 30 devices) in any room? This assumes that you do not
have enough lab space to give the test only in the lab.
10. Do your students have enough computing skills to ensure that they are
using their time wisely during the testing period? This may seem
obvious, but the Common Core assessments will involve more
mouse and keyboard skills than previous online tests.
11. Will you have enough tech staff available in each building during
the testing window to support the test in all locations of the building?
You will have to work with your administration to decide how many
techs you will need per testing room.
12. Do your teachers have the training to answer basic computing
questions on all testing devices? Your teachers may be very
familiar with using some devices, but what about the accessories,
like headphones, keyboards, or tablets? If the answer is no, that will be
two trainings to keep in mind for your teaching staff.
Craig Williams is Director of Information Services for School District
U-46 in Elgin, IL.