Being assessment ready–now

How are administrators preparing for online assessment capacity?

assessment-readyAsk a school district technology leader what is his or her top priority this year, and you’re likely to hear the response: “Getting ready for the new high stakes, technology-based assessments.” That is the most common answer from CoSN’s 2014 IT Leadership Survey.

What is happening that pushed this priority atop chief technology officers’ (CTOs) “to-do” list?

The short answer: The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and other online assessments are fast approaching in most states.

Figuring out which states are participating in either the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced) or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is a fluid situation. Whether your state is in one of the two CCSS consortia or is going for another state-based assessment, it is likely your high-stakes assessments will be delivered via technology in the near future (if they are not already).

(Next page: Technology-based assessments)

Why technology-based assessments?

There are many benefits to online assessments:

  • Quick return of results that can inform instruction
  • Increased instructional time when done efficiently
  • Stronger test security if done right
  • Useful information about students that was previously unavailable
  • Better picture of student subject matter performance and mastery

Student assessment is being significantly transformed, driven by key initiatives, such as Race to the Top and other federal programs supporting the development of online assessments; widespread adoption of the CCSS; the digital shift or transformation that is intensifying in schools; and President Obama’s ConnectED initiative to provide 99 percent of America’s students with broadband connectivity within five years. Other key drivers in the overall education digital conversion include states requiring an online course for graduation, the exponential growth of tablets and other mobile devices, and increases in online school enrollments.

While PARCC and Smarter Balanced strive to implement successful online assessments, each entity has its own approach. Smarter Balanced uses adaptive technology embedded in the testing instrument, intended to maximize the precision of concept mastery. PARCC uses a fixed-form of delivery, where students take one of several fixed, equated sets of items and tasks. Both allow computers, laptops, and tablets for test-taking, and both use a combination of electronic and human scoring techniques. Both assessment systems are computer-based and designed to use technology for innovation, student engagement, accessibility, cost efficiencies, and rapid return of results.

The two CCSS consortia also provide a paper-and-pencil version under certain circumstances: Smarter Balanced will provide a paper-and-pencil version for three years for schools not ready for online assessments, as approved by their state. PARCC will provide a paper-and-pencil version for the 2014-2015 school year for schools approved to do so by their state. PARCC’s goal is for the vast majority of schools to conduct computer-based testing by the third year of operation assessments.

Still have questions?

CTOs have a lot of key questions about becoming assessment ready. CoSN, in partnership with Education Networks of America and The eLearn Institute, recently surveyed school district technology leaders to identify these key questions and concerns.

The questions came down to: network infrastructure–serious network infrastructure or network management challenges; device and device management–major challenges with student devices and device management; training and professional development–significant challenges for staff training and professional development; and funding– compelling challenges around funding.

We have answers 

The good news is that both Smarter Balanced and PARCC have provided CoSN with the answers to these key questions via FAQ video sessions and written responses at There also is a suite of free resources available, including a White Paper & Executive Summary, Readiness Recommendations & Checklist, as well as three detailed school district case studies.

To help you get started, CoSN issued eight key recommendations:

  1. Create a cross-functional strategic planning team
  2. Secure funding sources for modern learning environments
  3. Embed technology in instructional practice
  4. Invest in robust professional development for teachers, administrators, and technical staff
  5. Build out a robust infrastructure
  6. Select devices meeting instructional needs and assessment consortia requirements
  7. Communicate–a lot
  8. Pay attention to logistics

As a top CTO priority, assessment readiness is the challenge of now. Discover where your district falls, get your questions answered, and start moving forward to prepare your district for the high stakes, technology-based assessments.

Keith Krueger is the CEO of the Consortium for School Networking.

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