Most schools solve web issues for computer testing

Most schools solve web issues for computer testing

(Calif.) Of the state’s more than 11,000 public school sites, students at fewer than 21 of them will be taking the Common Core assessments this spring the old fashioned way – on pencil and paper.

That welcome – though somewhat surprising – news comes as the California Department of Education prepares to award some $26 million in state grants aimed at making sure all K-12 schools have the Internet capacity needed to administer the computer-based Smarter Balanced tests.

“We had over 90 percent participation from districts in the Smarter Balanced field tests last spring,” CDE’s Cindy Kazanis said Monday. “The funding made available to the state’s K-12 High Speed Network and its Broadband Infrastructure Improvement Grant program will allow districts that have been underserved to be able to test all students on computers, as designed.”

Recognizing the need for adequate infrastructure to support the new computer-based math and English assessments, Gov. Jerry Brown included a one-time, $26.7 million appropriation in this year’s budget to support the BIIG program.

Meanwhile, many school districts and county offices of education have used other resources available to them – whether extra dollars they may have received under the new Local Control Funding Formula or local bond revenues, coupled with federal subsidies – to upgrade their technology infrastructure.

Just last Friday, the Federal Communications Commission voted to increase funding for its federal E-rate program by $1.5 billion annually in order to help U.S. schools and libraries improve internet access. That decision, officials said, will allow the United States to expand high-speed Wi-Fi access to 43.5 million additional students, over 101,000 additional schools, and nearly 16,000 additional libraries.

According to Kazanis, 629 schools were initially identified as potential recipients of the Broadband Infrastructure Improvement Grant program but as of last month, of the 349 deemed eligible to move on, 304 had actually done so. Under the program, these school sites or local educational agencies agree to a technical assessment that includes a determination of their external Internet connection speed as well as a review of their participation in last spring’s field testing of the new computer assessments.

Ideally, the 21 sites identified as not being able to test students using computers would receive priority for the BIIG grants, said Kazanis, but there are areas in the state so remote or that have other access barriers that officials are worried about finding providers who will bid to connect them. CDE staff is already laying the groundwork to find solutions to this problem, the director of the department’s Educational Data Management Division said.

The 304 sites eligible for funding include 170 school districts and 53 charter schools, she noted, and are spread across 44 of the state’s 58 counties – from rural areas to urban districts.

“It’s not just a rural issue; it’s also an urban issue,” Kazanis told state board members last month. “We have 30 sites from LAUSD, for example, that have challenges to accessing computer-based testing as well.”

In addition to the infrastructure grants provided by the governor and Legislature, the legal language funding the BIIG program also requires completion of a statewide report by March 1 detailing the status of Internet infrastructure from the California K-12 High-Speed Network in consultation with the CDE and the State Board of Education.

The Common Core-aligned assessments, developed by the state coalition known as Smarter Balanced, will be known in California as the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, or CAASPP. Student-scored assessments are set to be given for the first time this spring.