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8 key recommendations for Common Core online assessments

New toolkit for school districts offers crucial guidance on how to implement Common Core online assessments

online-assessments-common core Common Core online assessments are scheduled to begin in districts across the country in the spring of 2014 through 2015. However, many districts still struggle to implement these online assessments, thanks to inadequate bandwidth and lack of technology infrastructure. National consortia and multiple school districts have offered eight key recommendations to help districts in their implementation efforts.

“Online assessments are important for the future, regardless of participation in Common Core States Standards,” said Tom Ryan, CEO of eLearn Institute, Inc. “These assessments are substantially different from other current online assessments because of significant writing, simulations and higher-order thinking skills, and the requirement of new infrastructure and human capacity.”

The comprehensive toolkit, “Raising the BAR: Becoming Assessment Ready,” was developed by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), Education Networks of America (ENA), and the eLearn Institute as part of overall efforts to ensure all districts can make the transition to online assessments smoothly.

“Right now, 99 percent of districts need additional bandwidth and connectivity in the next 36 months,” said Ryan. “And 43 percent of school districts indicated [in our study] that none of their schools can meet SETDA’s goal of 100 Mbps of internet access per 1,000 students today. There’s work to be done.”

Based on observations from a series of case studies from large and small districts, interviews with experts and feedback from the consortia, a list of 8 key recommendations for becoming online assessment ready was created.

Each recommendation is accompanied by a checklist of items for school districts to consider as they prepare for online assessments. The checklist, says the consortia, will help school districts “not only learn from the experience and key observations of other school districts, but also be intentional and comprehensive in their own planning process.”

(Next page: Recommendations 1-4)

Key recommendations

1. Create a cross-functional strategic planning team:

  • Make becoming assessment ready a priority for the district
  • Create a cross-functional team, including curriculum, instruction, assessment, finance, professional development and technology to create a strategic plan
  • Build an 18-month roadmap
  • Create a cross-functional response team to respond quickly to issues during the assessment period
  • Proactively collect data from 2014 practice assessments on training, infrastructure, device and preparation
  • Work with individual schools on assessment scheduling

2. Secure funding sources for modern learning environments

  • Create a strategic plan that shifts funding from paper-based practices, resources, staffing and content toward digital-based functions
  • Prioritize operational, categorical, grant and capital funds toward the strategic digital plan
  • Review and consolidate digital resources and assets
  • Adopt OER to help defray costs

3. Embed technology in instructional practice

  • Embed the use of technology throughout lesson delivery
  • Ensure all students are comfortable using computers and applications such as online calculators
  • Ensure early grades have adequate access to technology tools
  • Make assessment a natural part of the teaching and learning environment—not a special event
  • Participate in field tests and pilots and take every opportunity to become familiar with new online assessments

4. Invest in robust professional development for teachers, administrators and technical staff

  • Assure support staff receive adequate training specific to support the classroom test environment
  • Help teachers and students become familiar with the new question format and tools, as the CCSS assessment question format is different than traditional “high stakes” assessments
  • Support teachers and administrators in proactive use of technology to personalize teaching and learning, as this will help them be better prepared for online assessments
  • Create a technology skills roadmap, such as ISTE Standards for Students (formerly NETS), for each grade level; roadmap should address not only technology, but also assessment format
  • Participate in field tests and pilots and take every opportunity to practice with new testing environments

(Next page: Recommendations 5-8)

5. Build out a robust infrastructure

  • Meet SETDA recommendations for bandwidth no later than the start of the 2014 school year
  • Consider partnering with a managed network services provider to provide overall IaaS solutions as well as QoS strategies for the district
  • Use tools to manage and prioritize existing bandwidth for high priority data traffic
  • If implementing the PARCC assessments and bandwidth is a constraint, explore Proctor Caching
  • Assure network density is adequate across the system to handle the wireless load
  • Plan for increased ongoing technical support to meet increased demands on infrastructure and devices
  • Implement strategic scheduling to reduce the number of students tested at one time when adequate bandwidth is not available
  • Participate in field tests to determine network capacity real-time to know what to expect on actual test day(s)

6. Select devices meeting instructional needs and assessments consortia requirements

  • Intentionally select the appropriate device, based on student academic success, realizing that desktops, tablets, laptops, Chromebooks and netbooks have different strengths and weaknesses and interact differently with online resources
  • Although many devices may meet minimum standards, select devices that give students the best opportunity for success
  • Avoid smaller screen size, which makes it difficult for students in online assessments and requires more back and forth scrolling, taking time and being distracting for students
  • Avoid smaller keyboards that make data entry more difficult
  • Consider age appropriate devices, as one district-wide device may not be appropriate for all grade levels
  • Move from lab-based assessments to fully integrated classrooms, as it is important for students to test in the same environment in which they are taught
  • Protect expensive digital investments with quality maintenance and support programs; digital tools, content and systems are growing exponentially, yet technical support has remained the same or decreased

7. Communicate—a lot

  • Be intentional about your communication plan to school sites and site-based educators as well as other stakeholders, such as parents and the community, so they know what to expect
  • Communicate with your infrastructure service provider(s)
  • Communicate with your testing provider
  • Create opportunities for parents and community members to take practice questions to increase awareness of the test rigor
  • Provide town hall meetings, parent nights or sample CCSS challenge questions on broadcast news and in the newspaper to raise awareness

8. Pay attention to logistics

  • Work out detailed scheduling for assessments well in advance
  • Make sure you have ample devices and peripherals that meet minimum or recommended required specifications, including back-up equipment
  • Make sure you have developmentally appropriate devices meeting the consortia guidelines
  • Test wireless density capacity to be sure there are enough access points to handle the load
  • Make sure devices are fully charged and will last for the duration of the test
  • Make sure power adapters, power cords and power are available
  • Train testing proctors on the devices being used
  • Participate in field tests and pilots and take every opportunity to practice with new testing environments

The consortia’s toolkit goes into much more detail, not only in the recommendations for implementation of online assessments, but with district case studies, frequently asked questions by school districts and responses from the two Common Core consortia (PARCC and Smarter Balanced) For the toolkit’s full list of resources, visit the toolkit’s homepage.

The transition to Common Core online assessments “will require a robust infrastructure, significant [PD], attention to devices and device management and a different way of thinking about assessments and the tools that collect information as well as integration of several assessment and data systems both locally and nationally to be successful,” notes the report.

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