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This method is helping students excel under Common Core

How can we implement new technology to improve Common Core assessments?

common-core-technologyOne of the central goals of the Common Core State Standards was to make education more uniform across the country. There were simply too many differences between the education a child would receive in Massachusetts and the education one would receive in Mississippi, for instance.

The disparities also crossed over into testing measures.

In response, the two testing consortia, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced, which were formed by groups of states to administer the new, next-generation assessments, have committed to providing a fair and uniform testing experience for every student nationwide.

They have also focused on updating assessment for the technological times in which we live. Testing will now be multimedia-based and completed on computers and handheld devices such as tablets. Videos, sounds, and interactive test items will be commonplace and as a result, students will need headphones and headsets in order to avoid disturbing other students.

This report addresses the urgent needs of schools and districts across the country to have these key pieces of hardware in order to support the coming tests. Key questions include: What are the requirements for the new assessments? What happens if there are not enough headphones made available? What if the equipment isn’t up to the task? Additionally, this article attempts  to show just how large the market will be in the coming year and why it’s important for your district and school to work out any issues and challenges now.

(Next page: understanding the requirements)

Understanding the Requirements

The consortium in which your state belongs goes a long way towards defining the headphone requirements for your district or school. Overall, the requirements vary only slightly between PARCC and Smarter Balanced, with Smarter Balanced being more descriptive in the headphone needs for their tests.

common core

Both PARCC and Smarter Balanced agree on the testing components in which headphones will be used. English/Language Arts assessments will have audio components where students will need to hear prompts and passages. Also, students with visual impairments that require text to speech technology will require headphones for the entire test. Full headsets with a microphone will be needed for students who require speech to text accommodations.

Smarter Balanced has gone into more depth about what they expect for headphone procurement:

  • Connection by USB is preferred; standard headphone jacks will be acceptable.
  • Devices and desktop computers must have sound cards with appropriate voice packs loaded for text-to-speech needs. Testing with sample and field tests is recommended.
  • Microphones are expected to be necessary for all students in future assessments, as designers move toward more natural input structures.

The Current State of Headphone Usage

In their technology briefings and other released materials, both consortia admit that the state of headphone usage among schools and districts is not adequate for the needs of their tests. School districts tend to buy headsets in bulk, made of the least durable components in order to lessen costs. They quickly fall into a state of disrepair. What was once a class set might only cover half the class one year into their life cycle.

From the assessment requirements, it is apparent that every student will need a pair of working headphones at least for the duration of their English/Language Arts testing, with more needed for students requiring accommodations. Without headphones, speakers will have to be used, creating a logistical nightmare for most schools when pairing students with testing sites; students would have to be tested alone.

As very few schools offer a 1:1 student/computer ratio, it can be assumed that every available computer will be used during a school’s testing cycle. In turn, each computer will need a set of reliable headphones in order to meet the device requirements of the testing consortia. Although headset status figures aren’t available, let’s look at the current standing of one state’s device infrastructure and how it stacks up to a consortium’s device readiness standards, including available headsets. Louisiana is a PARCC member state.

Louisiana PARCC Device Readiness

Total computer devices: 232,692

Number that meets recommended readiness standards: 82,754

Number of students in Louisiana: 727,594

Student/device ratio: 8.8:1

Number of school districts (out of 69) with enough devices for testing: 32

Source: Louisiana’s Technology Footprint report

Assuming a 6-hour testing day, it will take the state 11.72 days to complete the test. That is a lot of disrupted instructional time. Procurement of additional resources is necessary to protect the balance of the school year.

Preparing for What’s Ahead

Louisiana is just one state out of 40 moving toward the high tech, multimedia assessments. Assuming similar device readiness figures across the country, hundreds of districts will be rushing to complete their preparations in time for next year’s rollout of the PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments. Device preparedness, including headphones and headsets for appropriate students, is not optional.

There will be an education technology purchasing spree unlike any that has occurred since the introduction of the computer into the classroom 30 years ago. Although headset device manufacturers are increasing inventory to meet the anticipated demand, some districts will inevitably wait until it is too late to equip every available device with the required hardware.

What to Look for in an Educational Headset

  • Microphone, to ensure compliance with future assessment versions
  • Ability to be used with mobile devices and tablets
  • Noise reduction (for better concentration in testing environment)
  • Volume control
  • Multi-year warranty
  • Compliance with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008


  1. phonesPadded headphone comfortable enough for extended wear
  2. Fully adjustable to fit all sizes
  3. Mono/Stereo switch for language and computer applications
  4. Permanently attached with reinforced “strain” connection resists accidental pull out
  5. Lengthy 10 foot coiled cord with 3.5mm plug and snap-on ¼” adapter to fit all media players
  6. Dual volume controls on each earcup for comfort
  7. Noise-reducing earcup lowers ambient noise so volume does not need to be as high, as recommended by audiologists for hearing safety
  8. Rugged ABS plastic headstrap and earcups resist breakage in high-use situations , replaceable leatherette ear cushions


  • Windows and Mac compatible
  • Warranty for school use – unlike headphones purchased at consumer electronics stores whose warranties would be voided if used in schools

Roscoe Anthony is President of Califone International, Inc.

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