Assessments will require adequate bandwidth, devices

online-assessmentsAs the 2014-2015 school year approaches, Common Core-adopting states are working to develop and implement the online assessments that go along with the new core standards. Along with implementation come concerns about whether schools have enough bandwidth, sufficient infrastructure, and enough devices to support students as they migrate to online assessments.

Two assessment consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balanced, are developing the assessments aligned to the more rigorous standards. A State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) report examines four states’ experiences with implementing online assessments in advance of the deadline.

The SETDA report notes that during the 2014-2015 school year, roughly 40 states will use the online assessments from PARCC and Smarter Balanced, and ensuring that these assessments are ready for use will require not only an infrastructure evaluation and possible overhaul, but much human effort as well.

Four states–Delaware, Idaho, North Carolina, and Virginia–are profiled in the SETDA assessments report. The report examines each state’s previous experiences with online assessments, a timeline and milestones along the way, and future steps to ensure the online assessments’ success.

Delaware implemented online assessments in 2010 with the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System (DCAS), which uses summative and formative assessments under “broad testing windows.” Each school in the state has internet access and every district uses a statewide student accounting system, which made it easy to implement DCAS. The system launched fully during the 2010-2011 school year. Students use laptops or computers with a secure testing browser. The state uses an annual school technology survey to confirm that schools had enough computers to conduct a field test of the assessments. State education leaders then focused on including stakeholders in the plans. Once the state had stakeholder buy-in, all groups worked to confirm that the assessments were supported by adequate technology and hardware.

(Next page: Three more states move to online assessments)

In preparation for field testing the assessments, each district focused on technology readiness, teacher and staff assessment readiness, student readiness, and scheduling. State education officials said field testing the assessments and ensuring consistent and frequent communication helped prepare the state for its transition to online assessments.

Rural settings present challenges for many ed-tech essentials, such as reliable and high-speed internet access, and Idaho‘s rural location prompted state education officials to invest in the necessary hardware and infrastructure to connect districts to much-needed resources. The Idaho Standards Achievement Tests (ISAT) in 2003 marked the state’s first move to online assessments. Some of the state’s districts still lack all the technical or human capital needed to move fully to online testing, however, and the state is focusing on ways to boost infrastructure and human capacity to support online assessments. As the state progresses to 100 percent of schools using online assessments, state education leaders are making sure to involve educators in the process, focus on pedagogy instead of devices, build capacity with professional development, and project a unified message and goals.

North Carolina launched its NCTest, an online assessment delivery platform, in 2005 and is expanding in order to offer all high-stakes, and many non-high stakes assessments, online under the new TestNav platform, which state officials expect to be operational in 2014-2015. North Carolina used state funds to connect all public schools to the internet, and school tech officials began ensuring that schools’ infrastructure could support more devices, and wireless connections. The state developed a guide to help districts and charter schools transition to online assessments, and transitions are continuing.

Virginia has administered online assessments, in different forms, for nearly 12 years, and nearly all of the state’s assessments were delivered online during the 2012-2013 school year. The state created a robust infrastructure that is supported by approximately $30 million every year. The state plans to release a case study this fall, detailing its approach to online assessments.