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What tech leaders need to know about online assessments

Experts say bandwidth, state guidelines crucial for online assessments implementation

online-assessments As part of Connected Educator Month, the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) gathered together two expert district and state technology directors to discuss how their states successfully implemented 21st century online assessments.

The most interesting piece of advice: Without a basic technical foundation and statewide support, you can kiss online assessments goodbye.

“It’s a summary of parts that all work together,” said Patches Hill, technology systems manager of Delaware’s Indian River School District (IRSD). “You need your state-level infrastructure implementation, state assessment implementation [summative standardization], and personalized  learning [formative standardization]. This is a multistep process and it can’t be done instantly.”

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(Next page: Laying the groundwork)

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)

Smith said his district uses the Angel Learning Management System (LMS) for daily assessments and implemented a lock down browser in conjunction with Angel so students don’t wander from the tests. There are also quarterly assessments with ThinkGate, and end-of-grade and end-of-course online assessments.

“As we move to more personalized learning, it will prove key to build systems that follow open standards,” said Hill.

Smith showed that, already, online assessments have made a difference in district performance.

For example, Mooresville High School met 100 percent of its AMO targets. Other achievements include:

  • The overall composite for students testing proficient on state end-of-course exams grew from 68 percent in 2006-07 to 91 percent in 2011-12—a 23 percentage point increase over 6 years.
  • Third in the state out of 115 districts for its 2012 graduation rates: 90 percent of students went on to attend a 4-year institution (up from only 50 percent in 2006).
  • A 16 percent growth in all academic achievement in testing across the district.

For more information on state and district implementation online assessment best practices, be sure to visit SETDA’s resource page.

Each narrative provides an in-depth look at what it took a district to implement the assessments, as well as key factors in each state’s approach to infrastructure and training and communication. There are also downloadable resources that range from training agendas to checklists for technology readiness to sample letters from the state to school districts.

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