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Preparing Your District Technology for Common Core Assessments

Administrators need to ensure that networks and systems can handle additional demand for bandwidth

The Common Core State Standards assessments will be implemented in the 2014-2015 school year. To prepare, district technology leaders need to look at their networks and systems. Changes may need to be made to handle the challenges of online assessments. This web seminar, originally broadcast on August 8, 2013, featured district and PARCC speakers who discussed the format of the assessments, the technology requirements necessary to deploy the assessments, and the challenges in preparing your networks.

Jonathan Kidwell
Director of Education
Enterasys Networks

Enterasys Networks is a manufacturer of wired and wireless infrastructure, BYOD management tools, and more. As curriculum is frequently delivered through a network today, your wired and wireless infrastructures are truly the backbone of learning and necessary to education. Over the last few months, Enterasys surveyed several hundred school districts about their preparations for online assessments. Eighty percent of respondents said they have begun preparing for online assessments. Of those respondents, 73 percent do not feel very confident that their current network infrastructure can support the capacity necessary. Sixty-six percent are not confident that their network infrastructure can support the security needs of CCSS assessments.

Susan Van Gundy  
Associate Director for Assessment Technology
Achieve / PARCC

The CCSS standards help determine whether students are college and career ready. The standards work to measure the full range of student performance, including that of high- and low-achieving students. PARCC has two sections, including a performance-based assessment, which is about student-constructed responses. There also will be an end-of-year assessment, which is machine scored. When the system is fully operational, there will be diagnostic and mid-year assessments that will help teachers understand where students are in their progress. By building common infrastructure that is used across consortia states, these same systems can be used to deliver science and social studies assessments or share instructional content.

The power of technology provides unique opportunities for students with disabilities. Student registration information is loaded into the system, so different accessibility options, such as text-to-speech, are automatically invoked by the assessment. Districts need to think about their technology needs to have a rich, technology-enhanced environment that includes instruction, professional development, and assessments. It’s not just about “how many laptops do you need on test day?” Of course, the devices are an important part of preparing for online assessments. We have operating system capability that will work with older legacy operating systems. This has been critical, as the data we have collected from our states prove. About 45 percent of machines in our schools that will be used for testing are still running Windows XP. We needed to make our assessment compatible with that operating system.

At the same time, we are trying to support and encourage a transition away from Windows XP, especially considering that Microsoft will be discontinuing support for that operating system in April 2014. Screen size is also something to emphasize. By placing the minimum at a 10-inch screen, we have disqualified using smartphones for the assessments. We also have a minimum level of five kilobits per second per student of bandwidth. The recommended speed is 100 kilobits per second per student. We recommend schools run multiple tests that model bandwidth usage during an assessment.

PARCC has released a capacity planning tool, which is an Excel spreadsheet calculator-style tool that allows schools to enter the following data to make online assessment preparations:

  • Student population information by grade level
  • How many sessions of testing can be accommodated by the school schedule each day
  • Testing window lengths
  • Devices and bandwidth amounts
  • Other network uses while testing is occurring

Good planning that is coordinated by multiple departments, not just the assessment team, is essential. There should be a clear and consistent intention around planning within a district at different levels.

Kidwell: Enterasys offers to go to any district, not just our customers, and ensure your network is correctly provisioned for online assessment. This can help you understand and provide visibility of what’s going on in your network. Susan mentioned networks need to be able to handle the rich multimedia of the PARCC assessments. There is such a large number of devices in a district at any time, including mobile devices. The network has to support a massive number of applications and services, including voice and video. If your district is using digital textbooks and doing online assessment and using two-way video, all of those applications are fighting for the bandwidth necessary. Wi-Fi is a shared resource, so making sure your district has a way to provide high resiliency wireless is essential.

Coverage versus capacity must be considered. The Enterasys model is to provide a highly scalable wireless system so that when CCSS assessments are launched, the right provisioning occurs. Therefore, your network can support the testing and the other online activities going on at the same time. Having the ability to look at, understand, and manage your traffic is key to accountability and in ensuring a seamless end-user experience.

Pierre Dehombreux  
Director of ITS
Whiteriver (Ariz.) USD

At Whiteriver, we had many technology challenges that other districts may also face as they prepare for CCSS assessments. Our district network is open, as we have many buildings and access points. That open network means we will have intruders that we cannot prevent from using our bandwidth. Every district has sensitive data, such as student and personnel information. All of that information needs to be accessed over our open network, but mandates such as FERPA dictate that that data needs to protected. Other challenges include non-managed devices that might connect to our network and cause serious problems due to viruses. With the onset of PARCC assessments, we have had an influx of new devices to account for about one device per every other student. This required us to increase our capacity in storage, Wi-Fi network, and VLANs.

Our inventory is very complex. We need to manage PCs, Macs, laptops, iPads, Android devices, and more. It is necessary to prioritize devices; a student taking a PARCC assessment needs top priority, but the class next door having instructional time still needs bandwidth, too. For technology departments, there is also the challenge of an increase in stakeholders. As instructional use of technology increases, teachers’ wishes need to be considered in network planning. Online assessments have also led to PARCC programmers being involved in analyzing bandwidth size and device selection. How am I dealing with these challenges? I am ensuring my network is a solid foundation. It needs to be stable and simple enough to be managed in house. It needs to be supported immediately when needed. I appreciate the service from Enterasys, because when there is a problem, I can call and immediately get help.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to: