What do schools need to prepare for new testing standards?

The summer months are fast approaching, and with the end of school year in sight, it means students all over the country are preparing to take standardized tests before they can enjoy a three-month break. The new Common Core standards have brought big changes to the classroom, but one of the most noticeable is the online assessments that will soon be given to test how students are comprehending material. School district administrators have just about one year to go until their teachers have to start giving the online tests, so now is the time for IT decision-makers to inventory the technology and connectivity available in order to make the necessary changes before assessment day arrives.

"The Common Core digital assessment can bring challenges for schools when it comes to IT infrastructure."

The Common Core digital assessments can bring real challenges for the average school district when it comes to having the necessary connectivity and technological capacity. Even districts that have started to invest heavily in new computers and other hardware are finding that they underestimated the need for devices during the exam and will have to stagger test schedules in order to make sure all students are able to take the assessment during the required window without disrupting other class time.

New online testing requires schools to inventory their IT infrastructure.New online testing requires schools to inventory their IT infrastructure.

Schools look to enhance tech infrastructure before test season
To help school districts get ready for the Common Core tests, the two main organizations responsible for designing the test – the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers – have run pilot tests to identify any bugs in the system and are planning to stage more elaborate and comprehensive field tests of the exam closer to the launch date.

Smarter Balanced and PARCC have also each published their own minimum and recommended guidelines for the hardware, software and bandwidth required to deliver the assessments properly. Both organizations offered similar recommendations, suggesting that districts employing devices running on Microsoft operating systems use Windows 7 or higher and those running on Macs utilize version 10.7 or higher. In an attempt to guard against interruptions caused by schools' lack of connectivity, PARCC is making it possible for schools and districts to take advantage of caching, in which administrators download encrypted tests to local servers prior to the exam in order to reduce strain on local bandwidth. Smarter Balanced is not recommending schools use caching for their tests – instead the organization is relying on a process that transmits student responses to a central server bank immediately after an answer is given and protects those answers internally.

Clearly there is still a lot of work to be done within most school districts in order for them to be ready to administer the new Common Core assessments. The most reliable way for schools to ensure they will be capable of providing the connectivity and technological infrastructure necessary is to partner with a trusted service providers. The experts at ISG Technology have decades of industry experience to offer and are able to create a customized program that will meet individual school's needs. ISG enables districts to access the support and network capacity necessary for a successful deployment.