More states are requiring K-12 students to take the state’s standardized assessments online. This means schools must make upgrades or purchase new technology that will help them meet the state mandates — and ensure the testing goes smoothly and efficiently. With all of the different devices out there, deciding which to use can be a tall task.
At Vacaville Unified School District in northern California, we found ourselves in this position in 2014. We, along with other school districts throughout the state, were under pressure to update our technology so students could take the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress online. Voters passed a bond issue for our district that year, part of which was earmarked for technology upgrades. We took advantage of this opportunity to implement a one-to-one initiative and ultimately selected Chromebooks, provided by CDI Computer Dealers, as our student devices.
We had three criteria: 1) The technology must be reliable, 2) it must be easy for students to use and 3) it must be easy for the school district to manage.
Vacaville USD tested several different types of devices before deciding on Chromebooks. We evaluated the experience for students when taking the tests on different devices. We first purchased a couple of Chromebook carts to try them out for assessments. Then we purchased 13,000 of them — one for every student. We also purchased HP switches, Ruckus Wireless and Dell servers.
Here is what you should consider when evaluating technologies for one-to-one programs and online assessments:
Select devices students will be comfortable using. Chromebooks and the Chrome OS are intuitive and easy for students to use – and for districts to manage. They also have keyboards whereas tablets do not. This is important for online testing, as well as for other classroom activities.
Make sure devices are versatile. Get technology that supports both testing and other course work. Although we launched our initiative with assessment in mind, we are impressed at the impact our one-to-one Chromebook program has had on teaching and learning. Almost any time I walk on any campus, I see the Chromebooks open and students working on them. Going with Chromebooks has also changed the way curriculum is being delivered because teachers can take advantage of new types of curricula geared toward one-to-one classrooms.
Have a plan for renewal. Make sure your district or school leadership budgets for the technology to be refreshed on a regular cycle.
Prepare your IT desk. Your IT team should be ready to respond quickly to technology issues in the classroom. That will help to make sure that when it is time to deliver online tests, it goes smoothly and will encourage teachers to embrace teaching with the technology.
Find a reliable partner. It is important to go through a reputable reseller. We selected CDI Computer Dealers because the company offers low prices and solid warranties on the Chromebooks and also provides support, from planning to implementation to asset disposition.
Technology is a tool to enhance learning and help schools meet the growing demand to provide online access to everything from testing to teaching. Just like you would test drive a car before buying it, schools and districts should carefully consider and evaluate technologies before investing to ensure it is the best choice for the school, the teachers and the students.
Jim Wasielewski is the technology coordinator for the Vacaville Unified School District in California.
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