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July 2nd, 2012
State’s push for digital textbooks, tests has schools scrambling
Students at Florida’s Lake Minneola High School spent the year reading from shiny, new iPads instead of textbooks, something many say helped them stay engaged with schoolwork.
At the first-year school in Lake County, nearly 2,000 gadgets infiltrated the classrooms. Theater students rehearsed with iPads instead of paper scripts, and math students could watch their teacher via pre-recorded videos from home.
Electronics and digital upgrades are becoming a larger part of Florida classrooms, fueled by a state push for schools to start adopting all-digital textbooks by 2015-16 and to test more students online.
At Audubon Park Elementary School in Orange County, students can tote personal electronics into the classroom to connect to the internet. And at Ocoee Middle School, students learning English can use school-issued iPods to record themselves so a teacher can monitor their fluency.
More Florida schools also are exploring the bring-your-own device approach, crafting new rules for students to use personal devices in the classroom.
Lake County plans to allow the program at four high schools in the fall and expects all seven district high schools to have it by the 2013-14 school year. Volusia schools also plan to add the program at 11 campuses in the fall. Orange and Seminole schools already let students bring devices to campus.
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Advocates say it’s a cheap way for financially strapped school districts to get more technology in students’ hands during class time, but many worry about the cost for families.
“There are those homeless [students] who may not have any,” said Jim Miller, a Lake School Board member who is pushing for the district to spend more money on school-issued student devices.
State testing rules are also driving the need for stronger network connections and more computer access.
Orange County just finalized a $10.7 million deal to boost internet speeds at elementary schools, and Seminole schools plan to make all campuses wireless by the end of the upcoming school year. Lake just spent more than $1 million to pay for district-wide wireless and faster internet speeds needed for testing.
Last school year, many educators played musical chairs, shifting students and teachers in and out of computer labs to make room for those who needed the machines to test. Many of the assessments, like new end-of-course exams and college-readiness tests, can be done only online.
Even at Crooms Academy of Information Technology in Sanford, where every student is issued a laptop, computer-based testing has proved difficult. That’s because machines used for testing can’t be loaded with personal student information.