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Computers seen as ‘unfunded mandate’ as online testing looms

Local school officials scramble to provide enough devices for Common Core assessment by 2014-15

School district officials in Forsyth County, N.C., say they must spend about $2.9 million to have students in certain classes ready within two years to take high-stakes tests online.

As new online testing designed around the Common Core State Standards looms, public school officials are concerned about what they see as an “unfunded mandate” to buy enough computers to accommodate the shift.

School district officials in Forsyth County, N.C., for instance, say they must spend about $2.9 million to have students in certain classes ready within two years to take the high-stakes tests online.

By the 2014-15 academic year, students in fifth- and eighth-grade science, high school biology, Algebra I, and English II in public schools statewide, including the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, must be ready to take exams with a computer, whether it be a laptop or some other device.

The school system wants to prepare for that requirement by getting some classes online this year, Darrell Walker, the assistant superintendent of operations, told members of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, which decides what portion of money the school system receives from the county. “That train’s rolling down the hill pretty fast,” he said to the commissioners Sept. 27.

To prepare, school officials want to lease 10,000 laptops and buy computer accessories.

See also:

Ohio schools test-drive state’s online assessment system

States to launch ‘IT readiness’ tool for common assessments

Tips for making the move to online assessments

With online testing on the horizon, infrastructure could be a challenge

The goal for now is to have students in fifth- and eighth-grade science, as well as high school biology, ready to take tests online this academic year.

The accessories—such as interactive whiteboards—would cost about $1.7 million, and the laptop leases would cost about $1.2 million, Walker said. At the end of the lease, the school system would buy the laptops at a discount and use them for students who can’t afford one.

Asked by Commissioner Walter Marshall whether the state was providing any money to help pay for the transition, Walker said that it was an “unfunded mandate.”

The Sept. 27 discussion was preliminary. Walker plans to bring a formal request later to the board of commissioners.

The school budget has enough money for the laptops. Walker’s request would be for the county to approve money already sitting in a bond reserve to be redirected for the $1.7 million in accessories.

Tammy Howard, the director of accountability services at the state Department of Public Instruction, said the transition to online assessments is being phased in statewide. In the process, school officials are dealing with two issues: bandwidth and computer devices.

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