Sep 30 2014

Are Districts Ready for New Assessment Standards?

Education researchers offer a clear roadmap for ensuring assessment readiness in the new school year.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiated a major shift in how schools collect and analyze student data. Now all major assessments are moving online to reduce costs, release results faster, and better capture and analyze student performance data to help teachers personalize learning.

For students to succeed on these assessments, systems and resources must be aligned, and students and teachers must use them from the beginning of this school year onward. As several students stated in interviews, "Don't teach me with paper and pencil and test me online."

Last spring, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), Education Networks of America and the eLearn Institute developed "Raising the BAR: Becoming Assessment Ready," a suite of resources to assist schools and districts in preparing for online assessments.

Time to prepare for this school year's spring assessment is running out, so here are four must-do recommendations found in those resources.

Create a Cross-Functional Planning Team

Successful districts have a well-defined plan that engages the major stake­holders in the planning process. At a minimum, this should include site-based school leaders and representatives from departments responsible for curriculum and instruction, assessment, IT, professional development and finance.

Well-prepared school systems also have cross-functional quick-response teams that can diagnose problems during the assessment to get students back on track.

Embed Technology in Instruction

Don't focus on preparing for the spring assessment, but instead on transforming classroom practice through standards-based technology that is used throughout the school year. Students and teachers must be fully engaged in learning standards using the appropriate digital devices and tools.

Ideally, the technology devices that will be used for online assessments are the same ones students use every day in class. Teachers, students and administrators from schools that use technology throughout the instructional program report the fewest problems with the online assessments. When online assessments are a part of the normal school day, they are not seen as a special event.

Build Out Infrastructure for Assessment

The State Educational Technology Directors Association broadband recommendations have helped school administrators see that infrastructure is not a one-and-done project but a dynamic resource that will grow over time. Through its Smart Education Networks by Design initiative, CoSN has developed resources to help school technology leaders plan and build school networks.

The emphasis over the next six months should be on fine-tuning and developing tools to manage available bandwidth. Test school networks by simulating actual test conditions across the entire network — not just in one lab or classroom. Bring in network providers to look for hotspot coverage and density issues and partner with providers on network management.

Select the Proper Devices

The tools that students and teachers use to access digital content will continue to evolve, and no one device meets all educational demands. Select devices that first meet instructional requirements, and then look at the cost for purchase and support. Purchasing devices that are inexpensive but don't meet curricular demands wastes money and time. Also, as computing devices move away from computer labs and into every classroom, school districts will need to support a variety of devices.

As more content becomes digital, school district leaders need to develop strategic plans to shift from paper to digital resources such as e-books.

With an election year looming, the CCSS has become a politically charged issue. Whether your state supports CCSS or not, one thing is certain: Online assessments will continue to grow and impact the way we teach and support learning.

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