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As clock ticks, experts propose online assessment to-do checklist

Districts must have sufficient bandwidth and hardware
Elementary students in Metropolitan School District in Indiana use Chromebooks for lessons and assessments.
Elementary students in Metropolitan School District in Indiana use Chromebooks for lessons and assessments.

At least one midwestern district is ready—or at least thinks it’s ready—for what most states are calling Common Core assessments.

The Metropolitan School District of Warren Township, Ind., an urban district in Indianapolis, had a jumpstart on technology and assessments thanks in part to a three-year, $28.5 million Race to the Top grant. The funds allowed the district last year to buy every student in grades one through 12 a Chromebook, a purchase that was in line with the grant’s focus on personalized learning. (Kindergarteners were given iPads.)

Students will use those Chromebooks this fall for the assessments of the college and career-ready standards, which Indiana created to replace the Common Core, says John Keller, director of e-learning at Warren schools. The students already take online benchmark assessments on their Chromebooks three times a year, so they are used to taking tests online, Keller adds.

As easy as Chromebooks may make integrating technology into classrooms, teachers still need PD to learn to get the most out of the devices and use them to their full potential, Keller says.

Aside from getting students used to online testing for the upcoming assessments, both SMARTER Balanced and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers in part recommend districts having:

  • Windows 8 OS or newer for tablets
  • External keyboards
  • 1 GHz or faster processor and 9.5-inch or larger screen size on devices.

Brandt Redd, CTO/CIO at SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium, adds that districts don’t need 1-to-1 programs, but should ensure they have enough computers and devices so groups of 20 to 25 students can test for periods that span eight weeks for high school juniors and span 12 weeks for third- through eighth-graders.

Eight Key Recommendations

  1. Create a cross-functional strategic planning team
  2. Secure funding sources for modern learning environments
  3. Embed technology in lessons
  4. Invest in professional development for teachers, administrators and technical staff
  5. Build a robust infrastructure
  6. Select devices that meet instructional needs and assessment consortia requirements
  7. Communicate a lot with the staff
  8. Pay attention to logistics

Another consideration is bandwidth, of which the 11,500 students in Warren Township have enough—for now. The district has 50 megabits per 1,000 students, or half of SETDA’s recommendation of 100 megabits per 1,000 students. But Keller says the district is working to get additional bandwidth.

The Warren district was among three case studies in a white paper examining districts that are prepared for online assessments. The paper, “Raising the BAR: Becoming Assessment Ready,” was developed by CoSN, eLearn Institute and Education Networks of America (ENA), a managed infrastructure service provider to K12. Warren was a customer of ENA, and can help other administrators understand their assessment needs.

Redd adds that SMARTER Balanced will help districts to, when assessments are given, interpret students’ test results so teachers can adjust their teaching styles to help individual students.

Keller advises other administrators to focus on instruction, and consider the learning experiences you want for students.

“You need to make sure the instruction is giving kids the opportunity to learn in ways so they are not freaked out if they are sitting in front of a computer,” he says. “We don’t want the online assessment to be a test on technology skills. They should have regular and frequent opportunities” to use computers for learning.