Smarter Balanced Assessments 32

Tech readiness: field test edition

It has been nearly one year since I last wrote an extended post on Iowa’s tech readiness for statewide computer adaptive testing. In the time since I wrote that post, Iowa participated in the Smarter Balanced Assessments field tests, which were an opportunity not just to test the test, but to uncover issues with the technology infrastructure used to deliver and administer the assessments.

What did we learn about Iowa’s tech readiness through the field testing? It’s hard to say, as there has been little media coverage of the field test experience in Iowa. In fact, the only media mention of how field testing went in Iowa I was able to find was an EdWeek article that mentioned that the Denison Community School District had some issues with the text-to-speech function during the field tests.

No news isn’t necessarily good news. Even if we assume a lack of headlines indicates that field testing went smoothly for participating Iowa districts, Iowa’s school technology infrastructure could hardly be said to have been put to the test.

Participation in the field testing was voluntary and, as best I can tell, only 8% of Iowa’s school districts, representing slightly less that 14% of Iowa’s K-12 student enrollment participated in the field tests. Only two of the eight largest districts in the state participated (25% of UEN members), joined by only three of eleven UEN associate members (27% of UEN associate members or 26% of total UEN membership).

Of the participating districts, I could find only four mentions of the scope of field testing participation (one district mentioned third grade, one mentioned sixth grade math, and two mentioned third grade math). Keeping in mind that state law requires that districts to test nine grade levels of students (grades 3-11) in three subjects (mathematics, reading, and science) starting in the 2016-2017 school year, it is likely that not even the technology infrastructure of even the individual participating districts has been adequately tested.

Which leaves us to see what we can learn from the experiences of other states: that it helps to already be administering statewide tests online, and in the absence of that, it helps to make large investments in technology upgrades and training.

Consider the field testing experience of the Pulaski County Special School District, as reported in EdWeek:

The Pulaski County Special School District in Little Rock, Ark., credited a bandwidth upgrade and lots of upfront technology work with an uneventful PARCC field-testing experience. Chief Technology Officer Will Reid said his staff loaded computers with Java and other software updates and tested every computer’s functionality ahead of time.

. . .

[Chief Technology Officer] Reid, from Pulaski County, said the field-testing “went much smoother than we anticipated from a technological perspective.” But the trial run involved a very small number of the district’s students, and he thinks it will be “an extreme challenge” when the test goes districtwide next year.

“It takes such a coordinated effort between IT, teachers, administrators, and students for this to go off successfully,” he said.

Many of the tabs I am trying to close this weekend, regular readers will be unsurprised to learn, relate to Smarter Balanced assessments specifically, or online statewide testing or common core testing more generally. Stay tuned for more posts on these issues later today as the spring cleaning blogathon continues.