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3 approaches to online assessments

School officials are anxious about the switch because like the former assessment, PARCC will affect graduation requirements, teacher evaluations, and report cards given to schools.

“It’s all kind of scary, especially if it’s as high stakes as it’s supposed to be,” said Hatch Valley Superintendent Linda Hale.

As of December, 75 percent of the state’s schools had enough computers — one computer for every five students — and 85 percent had the necessary bandwidth to administer PARCC, according to a January Legislative Finance Committee report. The figures were based on a Public Education Department survey.

For big districts, like Albuquerque Public Schools, having enough computers is more likely to be an issue, while small rural districts are more likely to struggle with bandwidth, said Paul Romero, APS chief technology officer.

Romero said APS has enough bandwidth but he’s not sure it has enough computers. “It really is a question mark at this time,” he said.

Romero said PED’s survey might be misleading because not all computers will work for PARCC. For example, the screens on some computer tablets owned by APS might be too small, and others might need new operating systems, he said.

The PED is following up with districts to get an accurate count on computers that will meet PARCC requirements, said Leighann Lenti, PED deputy secretary for policy and programs.

Meanwhile, the PED will give $5.2 million to districts to spend on needed technology upgrades, which state lawmakers approved last year. Lenti said districts have until July to spend the money.

Hale said her district has pretty good bandwidth, and with 1,250 students, it’s small enough that it shouldn’t struggle with computers.

Still, the district must buy additional internet routers to ensure students taking the test on wireless computers have solid internet access, Hale said. Hatch Valley will receive $9,000 of the $2.5 million PED dispersed, she said.

During a recent APS School Board committee meeting, officials said they’re concerned PARCC’s website might crash during testing. A crash could throw a monkey wrench into test schedules, which will be very tight given all students who need to take the exam, Romero said.

PARCC officials said they anticipate hiccups when the assessment is rolled out, but they have safeguards to protect against a crash or lapses in Internet connections. For example, schools can download the exam the day before it’s given, said Susan Van Gundy, associate director, technology, at PARCC.

This cuts down on the bandwidth needed to give the test and would allow students to continue with the test even if an internet connection was lost, Van Gundy said. She said a lapse in internet connection shouldn’t hurt outgoing test responses because they’re stored on the school’s network server and then sent to PARCC’s website.

In New Mexico, 420 schools volunteered to pilot the PARCC assessment in March, including 42 APS schools. Pilot tests won’t be graded, Van Gundy said.

Testing the tests in California

California schools are racing to add computers and improve internet access in preparation for the debut next school year of state computerized assessments for students.

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