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New Guide Offered to Help Schools Gauge Internet Needs

Many of the nation's school districts seem certain of one thing: They want faster, and more reliable Internet service. But how can district officials know just how much connectivity is enough to meet the needs of their students and staff members, schools and individual classrooms?

A new guide, published by the State Educational Technology Directors Assocation, attempts to help school officials get the answers they need.

The association arranged to have Netcraft, an Internet services company, analyze various tools districts use for testing the speed of their broadband. The speed-test tools studied by Netcraft, an organization based in England, were SpeedTest.net; the EducationSuperHighway's School Speed Test; and a bandwidth check tool developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortia, one of two groups developing tests aligned with the Common Core State Standards.

The state tech association last year published recommendations on the Internet speed that schools need. But the association heard that school officials were often confused by how to measure the speed of their connections, and that they weren't helped by the fact that various tools designed do those measurements yield different results, explained Douglas Levin, the group's executive director.

Other complications present problems for districts, Levin noted. Some of them don't monitor their web speeds all the way through to individual school buildings, and some of the tools they use overestimate the web connectivity that's actually available.

Those mistakes bring consequences, he said. School officials find out their wireless networks don't perform as well as they want, or that their systems won't support increasingly prevalent bring-your-own-device efforts, or the use of tablets and other tools that heavily tax wireless routers.

The report is designed to help district officials by offering descriptions of each testing system for measuring connectivity, with a breakdown of those tools' strengths and weaknesses. It also offers advice on how to use those tools to make decisions about implementing technology in districts.

"The primary message is that it is important to know how much speed you actually have, vs. what you think you have," Levin said in an email. For schools, "the speed you think you have is often less by the time it reaches the classroom and other factors are considered (like use by students in other classrooms and traffic on the wider Internet)."

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