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There has been much talk here in as well as in the blogosphere and hallways of school districts about whether or not states and districts will be ready for the new assessments to be delivered online in the 2014-15 school year. In fact, helping states and districts get ready for these assessments is the primary reason for this site, so that notion has been on our radar for a while.

Significant efforts are underway to determine readiness, especially the joint launch and implementation of a Technology Readiness Tool (TRT) by the large assessment consortia (PARCC and Smarter Balanced) via a contract with Pearson and support from SETDA. The tool is looking at devices, device to student ratio, broadband and tech and test administration and support. The consortia are still working to determine what technology specifications, such as operating systems, type of device, speed of bandwidth, will be necessary to implement all aspects of the assessment program as well as non-technological issues such as the size of the testing window, which in turn affects the technology. If there is a short testing window, districts will need a lot more devices than if the testing window is relatively broad because in the latter case, a district would be able to test fewer kids at a time. There are many moving parts and they all interact with each other, not unlike how pressing on one corner of a waterbed affects all parts of the waterbed.

Two immediate action items for states and districts:

  1. Complete the TRT as accurately as possible. The consortia will be using the results from this first window of data collection to provide input into their decisions on the technical specifications.
  2. Begin to look at the human side of implementation. There has been a lot of attention directed toward technology, and rightfully so. Having enough devices of the right kind and sufficient bandwidth is a make or break part of this effort. And, if there is a shortage of some technology, addressing that shortage may take time and money. Time is especially crucial in adding broadband, as it often takes more than money to fix that shortage. However, as anyone who has implemented a technology-based program knows, the boxes and wires are the easy parts. A much more difficult part is helping teachers and students do things differently, and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) as well as online assessments with different item types that include technology-based, problem-solving, and simulations, all are very different. As states and districts roll out training on the CCSS, they should also begin training on how assessment of these standards will be different and how teachers might design and implement in-class assessments that are consistent with the CCSS and thus consistent with the approaches that will be taken on the 2014-15 assessments. Assessments should not be a separate event, but more integrated into instruction, just as technology should be an integral part of instruction.

Let us and the hundreds of other users of know what you are doing with these two action items. Create a discussion, post some documents that have been helpful to you, and let us know what can do for you. At the risk of sounding like a cliché, together we can make this entire effort successful and the winners will be our students.

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