Question: Why is a private organization telling local school districts how they must direct their educational delivery and what requirements they must meet?
One of the two consortia designing tests for the Common Core State Standards recently 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, or PARCC, says the guidance 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," which would satisfy the consortium's tech guidelines at least through 2014-15, and "recommended" ones, which would be expected to meet the group's standards through the 2018-19 school year.
The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortia has released its "assistance" to local districts:
Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium Guide
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 says.
1. Move away from Windows XP (which is 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 gigabyte of internal memory. Most schools have already implemented this recommendation (63 percent, to be exact).
3. Ensure 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.
4. Student testing sites must operate 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 identify secure browsers each year that will be required for the actual test-taking. Those browsers will prevent students from being able to access anything except the exam.
5. The assessment requires about 5 to 10 kilobytes per second of bandwidth per student. The amount of bandwidth needed will depend on the specific assessments, some of which include animations, recorded audio, and other technology-enhanced items. Schools should estimate about 1 megabyte per second for every 100 students taking the assessment.
Again, the questions must be asked: Why is a private organization telling local school districts how they must direct their educational delivery and what requirements they must meet? Where is the local control in these directives? What is exactly the role of school boards in this matter and the fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayer?
The districts cannot choose whether or not to abide by these "suggestions". Look at the directives for the districts from SBAC:
- they must operate on secure browsers
- the assessment requires a certain amount of bandwith
- move away from the operating system (which half the districts operate) to Windows 7
- upgrade computer memory
- replace screens that are too small.
What is not listed in the technology requirements and "recommendations" is how districts are to pay for these updates/mandates in this revenue strapped economy. How's that for local control?
A reader at Edweek had some of the same concerns:
Common Core is just another push by big business to suck public funds from our school system. There are so many urban poor and rural areas that would never have funds, nor means to have the computer access/internet platforms available to take the publishing industrial complex's "tests" in the time frame suggested. Many schools don't have full-time teachers (or properly credentialed teachers in the case of many Charter schools that are allowed less oversight under the ridiculous law). How can a student be ready for a test if teachers aren't available? How are students with moderate to severe disabilities considered in the plan?
While larger districts like LAUSD have the means to create plans and provide training, many smaller, underfunded school districts don't have enough computers for staff. Access to functioning computers for all students is a pipe dream mandate in the current hostile funding environment teachers and regular public schools face.
School Districts across the nation have had budgets cut to the bone in the last 6-8 years already and in the last 3-4 we've seen excessive layoffs and firings just to keep things from falling into ruin.
Now these cash-strapped districts are given yet, another unfunded mandate to utilize another "reform" program AND do the testing online without being provided funding for equipment or training. As there are fewer staff available - it creates a bigger burden on those already performing two, three and even four full time jobs due to the deep cuts.
I'm absolutely sick of federal education dictates being given by business and legislators who refuse to listen to academics, child development specialists and parents. We know what our children need to learn. And it isn't more interference by outside business organizations that see our education funding as the next big poaching frontier.
We need trained teachers. We need nurses and librarians. We need safe neighborhoods with accessible health clinics, child care and a community that is able to send a child to school healthy, well-fed and ready to learn.
Until our legislators start addressing the needs of parents and families, these plans will just frustrate and disappoint us.