According to Hill, Delaware faced a expiring standardized testing contract after the 2009-2010 school year, which is when the district decided to make the switch to online assessments.

Delaware has three counties with 19 schools districts and the state has also adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The state now has a law requiring all state-mandated and high stakes assessments to be administered digitally.

“We wanted flexibility in how we administered the assessment as well as the format of the assessments,” said Hill, “which is why we created DACS-the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System.”

Hill also emphasized the importance of technical groundwork and stakeholder buy-in before online assessment implementation.

“DACS provides internet connectivity to each school,” he said. “We also have a statewide pupil accounting system that tracks accommodations used by every district already in place; an annual school technology survey to assist in determining readiness; and stakeholders were involved very early in the field testing process. We focused on tech capacity and hardware issues, particularly the process of setting up schools.”

For Scott Smith, chief technology officer of Mooresville Graded School District (N.C.) his district of eight schools and about 5,900 students decided to make the switch to digital switch to close the digital divide.

“Some students don’t have access at home, so we decided to go digital to help provide relevant instruction, 21st century readiness, real-world experience, improve instructional practice, and improve academic achievement. It was more of a moral imperative for us,” he said.

Currently, Mooresville has more than 5,500 MacBook Airs for every teacher and for students grades 3-12. It offers 24/7 access to online content, ubiquitous wireless through a minimum of an 802.11n access point in every classroom, and high availability of connectivity–500 MB pipe for the district and gigabit fiber between locations.

“Online assessments were the next step in offering this cultural shift n personalized instruction,” noted Smith.

The nitty-gritty

Prior to field testing in 2010, Hill explained that districts and school in Delaware were using technology for instruction, but administering paper- and pencil-assessments. But since then, the state attributes four factors to online assessment implementation success:

1. Technology Readiness—including network, bandwidth, and computer readiness. Every schools has wifi and currently, all but two buildings are wireless at 100 percent coverage of the entire facility.

2. Teacher/Staff Assessment Readiness—including training of district technology coordinators, as well as training of school and district test administrators.

3. Student Readiness—all students viewed a presentation that introduced the DCAS field test and completed both a computer skills assessment and training test.

4. Scheduling—districts developed careful schedules to complete in time allowed.

“[Performance Learning Centers] provided a structure for decentralized decision-making about the timing and configurations for online assessments that work best,” said Hill.

(Next page: Vendors and district achievements)