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Preparing for Online Assessments and 1-to-1

Keys to making the necessary network adaptations to support technology-rich learning

Many districts’ school years start with device rollouts and preparations for online assessments. Considerations need to be made around the technology planning for testing and 1-to-1 or BYOD. This web seminar, originally broadcast on June 6, 2014, featured an industry expert who discussed a new resource from SETDA (State Education Technology Directors Association) that can help district leaders identify technology requirements. Also featured was an administrator who discussed what groundwork needed to be laid prior to his district’s 1-to-1 and BYOD pilots.

Kevin Carman  
Director, Education Channel Marketing
AT&T

AT&T has a long history of providing data and voice services, internet access services, and application services such as voice-over IP to help school districts operate efficiently. We have been providing e-Rate eligible services to school districts for many years, and we are the incumbent exchange provider in 22 states. So we have a good view on the needs of education, and that helps us understand where to invest and how to support the mission and cause of education. AT&T Aspire is our flagship philanthropic effort—we have invested $350 million in it since 2008. Aspire is devoted to helping students graduate from high school and either go on to college or prepare them for the workforce. The funds are devoted to grants for nonprofit organizations that have initiatives for dropout prevention, workforce readiness and—particularly in the last year—for science, technology, engineering and math. We’ve also been involved with the ConnectED initiative, working to improve broadband access for low-income families in rural areas. We are very proud to be donating $100 million of mobile broadband services to families and school districts in need.

Geoff Fletcher  
Deputy Executive Director
SETDA

Most everyone knows about the PARCC and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortia, but not everyone knows about four other consortia that are providing online assessments—two for students who are English language learners and two for students with disabilities. Each of these four smaller consortia has technology requirements for their tests. Keeping track of and understanding all the requirements from all the consortia is understandably daunting, but it’s a crucial component of being ready for the new assessments. As a result, SETDA has created what we call “The Guide to Technology Requirements.” We took all the technology requirements from all six state consortia that are building assessments, and we put them together in one chart that can be filtered by consortium and by state.

The chart contains the requirements for each consortium and its requirements for computers, tablets and mobile devices, as well as requirements for things such as keyboards, headsets, screen size, resolution, browser and networking. A user can filter these requirements based on the technologies in their district, such as only Windows operating systems, and can then print or email the results. We all know that technology is for learning and the school district technology ecosystem is growing more complex and interconnected. Think about a waterbed. If you push down on the corner, waves move out and hit the other sides of the bed, and additional waves bounce back and interact with each other—everything is connected to everything else.

We are living in the age of the waterbed of technology in education, where one corner represents assessments, another corner is professional development, another corner is data, and the fourth corner is curriculum/textbooks content and OER. When students take an assessment, the results of those assessments create data. That data should be linked to professional development that can target standards on which the students did not perform well. These same standards can have content associated with them so teachers can choose different content more tightly matched to students’ needs. You can’t just do assessments in a vacuum. You need to have a clear curriculum and the appropriate content for that curriculum, data by which you can make decisions and professional development for teachers to learn new approaches to learning. “The Guide to Technology Requirements” also provides guidance that looks at a series of issues for districts to think about as they are purchasing and using technology. We frame this as a series of nested dependencies, where the most narrow is test readiness, followed by student readiness, then educator readiness, and finally—the most broad—school system readiness.

In the test readiness section, districts should be thinking about networking. For example, Room 401 near the middle of the building gets really good internal network connections, while Room 408 at the end of the wing doesn’t get very good connections. One of the things that’s obviously very important in assessment, as well as for learning, is that if you are going to do assessments in 401 and 408, you had better make sure that the network is balanced out so that the coverage is clear for both areas. The next area is student readiness. It is important that students have experience with the testing systems and that they practice items that the consortia have made available. Students must have appropriate time and learning experiences with the devices they will be using on the assessments prior to the assessments. In the educator readiness section, educators should be connected to professional learning opportunities and direct support with mentors or coaches if at all possible.

Finally, the most robust section, as you might expect, is the school system readiness. And again, there’s an admonition for planning and learning, not just assessment, as well as guidance regarding overall district access to bandwidth and tech support.

Randy Phelps 
Director of IT Services
East Side Union High School District (Calif.)

The first thing that my team did when we came to East Side was to look at where the money would be and what our bonding capability would be. My theory about schools is if you have no dough, you need to plan to get some. And if you have some, then you need to use it well based on a plan that you put together when you didn’t have any. We explored the idea of a tech-only bond that funds over 18 years. In our initial bond study, we polled our community and we had 74 percent approval, and we needed only 66 percent to be fully funded. To build support internally for the bonds, so that we have lots of people helping us fund it, we wanted to show progress first. In other words, we’ve done quite a few upgrades with very little cash over the last 18 months, so now we can show the public and our constituents that we are accomplishing things before asking for money.

When we’ve had hiccups, or problems, or challenges, we’ve gotten lots of support from people because they can see our plan, and we just act as though we’re going to actually accomplish our goals even though we haven’t necessarily found the money yet. The more we talk about it this way, the more money that shows up and then we can actually do it. For our next plan, we’re moving to carrier-based Ethernet, which allows some flexibility. Our AT&T people have worked with us closely and we’ve really enjoyed that relationship, especially because we bring them problems and they don’t necessarily bring us a new bill. They show us the different choices that we can make within the agreements that we currently have.

We’re busy anticipating the new technologies and the new demands. Our joke at the office is that when the internet is big enough for us to actually physically walk in, that will be about the right size for all the kids. We know that over the years we’re really going to have to continue to expand access. Use all your tools as ways to take your plan to the level, to really provide for the students. Every time somebody brings something to me, I try to come back with, “Hey, we have a plan for this. This is how it would work. This is how much it would cost.” It’s amazing how fast the dollar issue goes away when you’ve planned a good solution.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to http://www.districtadministration.com/ws060314