The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium has released an updated guide to technology requirements and recommendations for member states planning to implement the common core assessment system the consortium is developing for the 2014-15 school year.
Under the framework, most schools should be able to implement the assessments, the organization said. However, schools that meet only the minimum specifications for the assessments may experience lag times and delays, while schools that implement the recommended guidelines for technology will experience a faster, more seamless assessment experience. However, the organization asserts that the lags and delays will not affect the quality of the assessments, only the amount of time it takes to process students' responses.
The document makes five recommendations to prepare schools for the new assessments.
1. Move away from Windows XP (which is currently used by more than half of schools today) to Windows 7. Windows 8 might be acceptable, but further testing is needed. However, the assessments will work with Windows XP.
2. Upgrade computers to at least 1 GB of internal memory. Most schools have already implemented this recommendation (63 percent, to be exact.)
3. Make sure that all screens being used for the assessments have a visual display of no less than 9.5-inches, with at least a 1024 x 768 resolution. About 88 percent of schools have already met this recommendation. The assessments could work with an 8-inch screen, but 9.5 inches is the recommended width, the document says. Schools should also consider the dimensions of the actual visual screen if using tablets with an on screen keyboard, the document recommends, suggesting that schools provide plug-in keyboards to take full advantage of the screen.
4. Make sure the student testing site operates on secure browsers. While data reports from the assessments can be accessed through Google Chrome, Safari on iOS, Firefox, and Internet Explorer 8, the organization will release secure browsers each year that will be required for the actual test-taking. These browsers will prevent students from being able to access anything except the exam, and it will prevent them from copying and pasting or taking screenshots. The browsers will need to be installed every year prior to the assessment dates.
5. The assessment requires about 5-10 Kbps of bandwidth per student. The amount of bandwidth needed will depend on the assessment, some of which include animations, recorded audio, and other technology-enhanced items. Schools should estimate about 1 Mbps for every 100 students taking the assessment, keeping in mind that the school may be using additional bandwidth for other functions within the school during assessment periods.
For a full list of minimum technology requirements along with Smarter Balanced's current recommendations, download the report here. And check out the latest issue of Digital Directions to read more about how the shift to common core assessments will affect schools' bandwidth needs, the types of devices schools will need to buy, schools' assistive technology needs, as well as where schools currently stand in terms of technology readiness.