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Groups Issue Recommendations to Prepare for Online Exams

System-wide planning, investments in Internet infrastructure, and a focus on details will be key to successfully administering new online exams aligned with the Common Core State Standards, suggests a new report issued by a collection of education-technology support organizations.

An "assessment-ready" checklist, case studies, and responses to frequently asked questions are among the resources issued by the nonprofit Consortium for School Networking, based in Washington; the nonprofit eLearn Institute, based in Wyomissing, Pa.; and the for-profit Education Networks of America, based in Nashville, Tenn.

Field-testing of the new online common-core exams will take place later this year, with live versions of the tests administered next school year. 

Many districts and observers have expressed concern about whether school systems' infrastructure, devices, and staff will be ready for the new exams, and about whether those exams will heap new costs on schools.

The groups issued the following recommendations to help districts prepare:

  1. Create a cross-functional strategic planning team. The groups suggest that districts bring together administrators responsible for curriculum, instruction, assessment, finance, professional development, and technology and create an 18-month roadmap for administering new online assessments.
  2.  Secure funding sources for modern learning environments. Districts should "prioritize operational, categorical, grant and capital funds toward the strategic digital plan" and seek savings by reducing duplication in the online tools being used, seeking out free open educational resources, among other steps. 
  3. Embed technology in instructional practice. "Teachers and students should see technology and assessments as a natural component of great teaching and learning and not as a special event," the report contends.
  4. Invest in robust professional development for teachers, administrators, and technical staff. Using assessment data to foster "customized teaching to meet the unique educational demands of every student" is the goal, the groups say, and teachers and administrators need help to make it happen.
  5. Build out a robust infrastructure. The focus is on bandwidth and the density of wireless networks, with the goal being to meet the ambitious guidelines laid forth by the State Educational Technology Directors Association. But remembering things such as technical support and strategic scheduling are also important, the groups say, and they offer some strategies for maximizing bandwidth even in those districts that are unlikely to meet minimum requirements for connectivity.
  6. Select devices meeting instructional needs and assessment consortia requirements. Choosing devices should be based on instructional need, not operations, the report says. Small screens and keyboards should be avoided, and districts should forego computer labs for fully integrated classrooms.
  7. Communicate - a lot.
  8. Pay attention to logistics. Creating detailed schedules, stress-testing networks, charging batteries—the little things will make a big difference, the groups say. Participating in field tests can be helpful in working out the kinks.

In recent months, there's been a growing backlash against the common core from both the left and the right, and a growing number of states are reconsidering plans to use common-core assessments being developed by two major consortia, which were funded with hundreds of millions of federal dollars.

The report's suggestions will be useful even in those states that aren't using online assessments from either the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, its authors say.

The groups also argue, however, that the new common-core exams are an opportunity for districts "to build out the infrastructure necessary to support not only online assessment, but also classroom learning environments that will finally provide educators the tools they need to meet the unique needs of children."

Three case studies—of districts in Nashville, Tenn.; Warren Township, Ind.; and rural Idaho—are also included.

Follow @BenjaminBHerold and @EdWeekEdTech for the latest news on ed-tech policies, practices, and trends. 

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