Smarter Balanced Field Test Report Calls For Strong Internet Connectivity

Associate Editor

Internet connectivity interruptions and other technology issues during states’ Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium field testing earlier this year prompted the organization to recommend that some districts and schools bolster their technology and bandwidth before the operational tests are given in 2015.

The Internet issue occurred particularly where devices used wireless connections, according to the report released last week, although the frequency of the issue was not quantified. The field tests gave states “baseline information” they can use in preparation for next year’s operational tests.

The study culls from survey information provided from 13 of the 22 participating states. Each state prepared its own survey questions, so the findings are a review of themes, rather than a scientific analysis. Nearly 5,000 teachers and administrators responded to the surveys, as did 19,000 students. 

Author Nancy Doorey, writing on behalf of the consortium, suggests that schools and districts update their technology infrastructure and ensure sufficient Internet connectivity/bandwidth for next year’s operational tests.  In March, we wrote about a study from the State Educational Technology Directors Association that found 72 percent of districts did not meet basic bandwidth requirements of 100 kilobits per second per student, or the minimum of what’s required to run a schoolwide 1-to-1 computing environment.

Doorey noted that schools had a wide range of experience with administering tests online, from those that had been doing so for more than a decade, to others that had to “rapidly ramp up their technology infrastructure of computers, servers, bandwidth, and technology support personnel” to deliver them.

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While the prevalence of computers with the Windows XP operating system—which is no longer supported by Microsoft—was anticipated to be an issue, it turns out that fewer schools than expected are using devices operating on the older system, according to the study. 

Ten states had fewer 10 percent of devices running Windows XP, the report said, although three states still had 21 percent to 30 percent of devices on XP. Schools were advised to use devices running Windows 7.0 or newer, and Macs with OS X 10.7 or more recent. In March, my colleague Sean Cavanagh quoted a Microsoft education official as saying that sticking with XP increases the chance that a district will be struck by malware or other problems.

Doorey writes that the data may paint “an overly rosy picture for states and districts that had only a sample of schools participate,” noting that the schools that volunteered to be part of the field test may have been the ones that had completed technology upgrades. 

Of the nearly 78,000 help desk contacts across all the consortium states, more than 80 percent occurred before student testing, the report indicated. During the preparation and registration period for the field test, 35 percent of help desk calls involved correcting or resetting usernames and/or passwords, while another 21 percent asked for clarification of information that had been communicated previously.

For a look at how the field tests measured up in areas other than technology, see Catherine Gewertz’s post on the Curriculum Matters blog.

See also:

Source for chart: Smarter Balanced “Tests of the Test” Successful: Field Test Provides Clear Path Forward 

 

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