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Consortium Releases Technology Guidelines for Common-Core Tests

One of the two consortia designing tests for the Common Core State Standards has released new guidance on the minimum technology standards states will need to meet to give those tests, beginning in 2014-15.

The Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers said the guidance, unveiled late Friday afternoon, is meant to provide direction to states and districts on the extent to which current technology meets testing standards, or whether upgrades will be required.

The document offers both "minimum specifications," that would satisfy the consortium's tech guidelines at least through 2014-15, and "recommended" ones, which would be expected to meet the state group's standards through the 2018-19 school year.

Earlier this month, the other group leading states toward the development of tests to match the Common Core, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, released its own list of technology requirements and recommendations for 2014-15.

The new PARCC guidelines are "very similar" to the Smarter Balanced requirements, said Susan Van Gundy, associate director for assessment technology at Achieve, an organization that is managing the partnership consortium's work.

One of the requirements focuses on test security. All devices used during the tests—whether laptops, netbooks, tablets—and operating systems must have the capability to "lock down" and temporarily disable features that present a security risk while exams are being given. Certain features would also need to be controlled during test administration, including unlimited Internet access, certain types of cameras, screen captures, e-mail, and instant-messaging, the requirements say.

Some of the PARCC requirements are still to come. Minimum bandwidth requirements won't be determined until next year, according to PARCC. But the group is setting the recommended bandwidth for external connections to the Internet at 100 kilobits per second, per student or faster, and the minimum for internal school networks at least at 1000 kilobits per second, per student.

Desktop and laptop computers, netbooks, thin clients are among the allowable testing devices. Smartphones will not be allowed for 2014-15, because they do not meet the minimum 9.5-inch screen size, Van Gundy said. Tablets that meet the standards will be allowed. (Smarter Balanced has also said a 9.5-inch screen should be the standard.)

Standards for operating systems vary. The minimum standards for Windows, for instance, is Windows XP/Service Pack 3, though looking ahead, Windows 7 or newer is recommended.

Douglas Levin, the executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, agreed that the new requirements issued by PARCC are "very close" to the Smarter Balanced group's guidance.

Both the PARCC and Smarter Balanced documents will critical in helping state and local officials answer a overriding question when it comes to their existing technology, Levin said: "How much new stuff might they need to buy" to close the gap between what they have now, and what they will need to give the common core tests. (See Education Week's coverage of the common core technological challenges facing states and local districts in the most recent issue of Digital Directions.)

With the specifics from the two consortia, "we can actively have a conversation about how big the gap is, and what steps we need to take to address it," Levin said.

At the same time, the newly released PARCC documents have the effect of telling states that they will probably want to set their ambitions higher than simply meeting the minimum targets for 2014-15, he said.

"They do a good job of conveying that this is going to be an ongoing process," he said.

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