CDE, LEAs take first steps in answering assessment tech readiness questions

Concerned that California schools lack the technology infrastructure necessary to transition to new, computer-assisted student assessments, state officials are drawing attention to an online survey that could help them quantify the need and develop solutions for closing the technology gap.

As part of its association with the national assessment consortium known as Smarter Balanced, the California Department of Education is using an online survey system to gauge schools' technological readiness for new assessments aligned to common core standards.

The Smarter Balanced work is focused on development of computer-adaptive assessments, aligned to new common core standards in English and math, for students in grades 3-8.

In addition, CDE is leading a statewide working group to develop a plan for transitioning to those assessments and to reauthorize other statewide testing, including those for special needs students and English learners.

But with the new common core assessments scheduled to go into use by 2014-15, the big question now is how schools - already underfunded and lacking in many areas - will be able to bridge the technology gap.

The first data extraction" of the online survey - known as the Technology Readiness Tool - released Tuesday offered little in the way of answers to that question.

Just 42 percent of California schools participated in the survey that included questions about the types of computers they use, what operating systems they run, and how much data capacity or Internet bandwidth is available to them.

State officials are hopeful, however, that as development of the new assessments continue to progress, districts will take part in the survey so that when the time comes, their needs will be taken into consideration.

"We know that our schools already face enormous day-to-day challenges - but we also need to understand what issues they face as we move to online testing over the next few years," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in a statement.

"That's why we need the broadest participation possible in this survey, so that we provide as much assistance as possible to schools as they make the transition to 21st-century testing."

While hard numbers were recorded in terms of the type and quantity of technology devices at each of the reporting school sites, answers to questions about test administration suggest that there are concerns among school administrators about having adequate support staff and properly trained test administrators to support online testing.

For example, on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being not a concern' and 10 being extreme concern,' 72.48 percent of respondents answered in the 6-10 range when asked about having a sufficient number of technology support staff to support online testing.
When asked about their level of concern related to test administrators having sufficient technical understanding to support online testing, nearly 70 percent of respondents answered in the 6-10 range.

"While it's obviously too early to draw any firm conclusions, these initial findings suggest that training and technical support will be important areas to address - perhaps just as important as providing schools the computers and the bandwidth to carry out online testing itself," Torlakson said.

The Technology Readiness Tool survey will remain open for use by districts through August 2014.

CDE will complete five more data extractions between now and then, hoping that as districts participate and update their technology profiles, a clearer picture of what schools need will come into focus.

Meanwhile, Torlakson is set to unveil a plan in November for what types of assessments California plans to use, and how the state will help districts and schools transition to their use.

Given the financial difficulties confronting most schools in the state, transitioning to assessments that require greater use of technology could prove difficult at best for many districts.

Details of how Torlakson and the state plan to address this have not been publicly shared to date but in an interview in June, Joe Willhoft, executive director of the Smarter Balanced consortium, told Cabinet Report that his group is developing some options to help schools make the move to computer testing.

The consortia will support a paper version of the test for the first three years of the new assessments, Willhoft said. Smarter Balanced also envisions a 12-week assessment window, giving schools flexibility in the use of limited computer resources.

There is also a sense that much of the decision-making around administration of the assessments will be done at the local level, Willhoft said at the time.

An administrator of an elementary school, for instance, would evaluate its computer inventory and decide that the entire fifth grade can take the test online. But for the fourth grade, only the math portion could be done on the computers while the rest of the school would use the paper version, he said.

To view results of the online survey's first data extraction, or to use the Technology Readiness Tool, go to http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/sa/sbac-itr-spr2012sum.asp

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