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The Daily Ardmoreite
  • Frustrated school technology staffs worried about assessment plans, mixed message from state level

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  • State Superintendent Janet Barresi is wanting to calm school technology worries.
    Instead, she has added even more frustration for district technology staffs.
    "It's a scary road to invest money into this and then change it. It's hard to change direction in the middle of a four- to five-year plan," says Kingston technology director Bill Wolff. "We don't know where we're headed doing our tests."
    Barresi announced on July 1 that Oklahoma would not participate in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers assessments based on the Common Core Standards. Districts have spent the last few years preparing for the technology standards as outlined by PARCC.
    Barresi claims that schools' technology infrastructure is a main reason for the change. According to the Associated Press, Barresi cites the computer glitches during spring testing as an example of technology infrastructure issues.
    "If you look at what happened with testing this year — kids getting screens frozen, knocked off the test — those were technical issues that were from the districts' end of things," Barresi said. "(The testing vendor) crashed for two days because of server problems, but almost every bit of the rest of it was due to district issues. I'm not pointing fingers, but it is the reality."
    However, area technology directors report the problems were solely the fault of new testing vendor CTB/McGraw-Hill.
    In Kingston, eighth-graders lost connectivity to their test just as they were nearing the end of their test.
    "It was a nightmare. The kids were panicking, and it wasn't on Kingston's end at all," Wolff says.
    CTB/McGraw-Hill was hired for state testing after former vendor Pearson had several data errors and delays. CTB/McGraw-Hill will be used during the 2013-14 school year, the last year for the Oklahoma State Testing Program based on the Priority Academic Student Skills.
    "They were the easiest to install, but they have to do something on their end to make sure kids don't get kicked off," Wolff says. "For all that we are paying them, they should be able to hire the best system administrators."
    While millions of dollars go to testing companies, cash-strapped districts struggle to fund technology upgrades and make do with what they have.
    "One hundred percent of schools are really good at using old technology to get the job done, but it would be nice to have the funds to update our schools," Wolff says.
    School technology departments also have other expenditures and concerns other than state testing. Tech departments are also responsible for things like security cameras, SMARTboards, phone systems and electronic entry systems.
    Other data cited by the State Department of Education has also drawn questions from local technology directors. In April, SDE arranged for a School Speed Test Month, in which the bandwidth at schools across the state was tested. The effort was meant to collect data on what schools currently have.
    Page 2 of 2 - However, area school technology departments noticed the test results differed greatly from the tests they already regularly perform on their systems.
    For example, in Ardmore, tests on Monday showed a download speed of 92 Mbps and upload speed of 65 Mbps. The test calculated by the state had download speed at 8 Mbps and upload speed at 6 Mbps.
    Despite the conflicting data, districts will now have to adapt to the new state plan for testing after spending the last few years upgrading as needed based on the technology specifications for PARCC.
    Districts will have a year to adapt to whatever technology requirements are needed for the new tests, which are scheduled to roll out in the 2014-15 school year to complete the transition to the Common Core Standards.
    For example, if more Internet pipe is needed, a district will need time and money to purchase the pipe and install it before the tests are implemented.
    "There has to be transition time and planning time," says Scott Foster, Ardmore technology director.
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