Monday February 25, 2013

CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. -- A wholesale shift in public grade school curriculum is predicated on more computer-based testing -- necessitating the need for additional computers and fewer number two pencils.

By 2015, following along New York's planned implementation of Common Core Learning Standards, students in grades 3 through 11 will be assessed in math and English Language Arts on computer-based testing (CBT) platforms. According to a January memorandum from the state Education Department, schools are expected to employ the "next generation of summative assessments" by the spring of 2015, subject to Board of Regents approval.

100s of computers; 5 percent of budget?

As a result, "schools and districts should establish goals and plans that guide decisions on how many and what types of technology devices to purchase prior to the 2014-15 school year," according to the memo from Ken Wagner, associate commissioner for curriculum, assessment, and educational technology at the state Education Department. In the letter sent statewide to superintendents and principals, Wagner said the state "strongly recommend(s) the dual use" of technology purchases for both standardized assessments and to "support general classroom instruction and personalized learning opportunities.


Advertisement

"

But the state's recommended "device count" for testing, and percentage of the local budget that should be spent on technology, have been met with ridicule by some local school officials.

"The word asinine kept coming to mind," said Tom Wolski, a board member at Cambridge Central School. At that board's meeting earlier this month, teacher and technology coordinator Steve Butz said the state's recommendations came as a "complete shock."

For a K-12 school with 100 students per grade, the recommended "CBT-compatible" count is 300 computers. The memo suggests forgoing Windows XP for newer platforms, and tablets with external keyboards and a 9.5-inch or larger minimum screen size requirement. The state Education Department is also recommending that 5 percent of a local district's budget be spent on technology.

"When it comes to computers, that's a lot of money to spend," Butz told CCS board members. While the school currently budgets below $150,000 on technology, according to Business Administrator Beth Coates, 5 percent of the district's annual spending would be closer to $830,000.

Wolski said he would be "irate" as a resident if the district spent that amount on soon-to-be-obsolete technology, and his advice as a board member was to "just ignore the state." Butz said in a follow-up conversation asking whether the testing would be computer- or cloud-based, Wagner's response was "we don't know."

At neighboring Hoosick Falls Central School, various online testing will take place over the course of the next school year for kindergarten through sixth grade students. In a presentation to board members, Patrick Dailey, the school's director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment, said online testing modules would "be new for high school teachers" the following year; but not for the school.

Sounding optimistic about expanded online testing, Dailey pointed to "forward thinking" -- and a little bit of luck.

The amount of annual technology spending at HFCS similarly falls far below the state recommendation. In a first draft budget presented earlier this month for 2013-14, the district trims $1.4 million by shedding 7.5 positions and eliminating its General Educational Development (GED) program.

In a written response to Wagner, Butz said he would "greatly support computer based testing if more funding were to be provided for it," and gladly meet the state requirements "if I didn't have to put my teachers and students at the bottom of my priorities."

If the state Education Department is "requiring CBT, then they should fund it," Butz concludes in the letter.

Follow @Zeke_Wright on Twitter or email ewright@benningtonbanner.com