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Lessons Learned Preparing New Mexico for Success Online

nmflag Another in an occasional series of guest posts, we are pleased to feature the work and voices of SETDA members. Ferdi  Serim is the Educational  Technology Coordinator for the New Mexico Public Education Department.

With 92% of its students taking the PARCC assessment online, New Mexico celebrates success that surprised many skeptics. Fears about
inadequate infrastructure, outdated computing devices, and low levels of teacher comfort with technology were overcome by sustained efforts of school level technology and testing coordinators, who invested over 64,000 hours of staff time. Success with PARCC depends upon three foundational pillars: robust and reliable networks; correctly configured devices/browsers; aligning technology use to support both instruction and assessment.

Over a two year period leading up to the start of testing in March 2015, the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) worked with district technology leaders on intensive efforts to evaluate readiness, guide investments to upgrade both devices and networks, and build data systems to allow “real time” monitoring of progress toward readiness.

Yet, two months before testing began, the picture was troubling. Many schools had not set up proctor-caching servers, conducted infrastructure trials or begun mastering the complicated and confusing tasks of managing test sessions. PED partnered with CB Technologies (CBT) to master the technical and administrative tasks required by PARCC. CBT then assisted schools in setup before testing began, both onsite and online. This flow reversed once testing began, with the CBT “SWAT Team” of 12 consultants staffing a Help Desk 24/7, coordinating issue reporting and resolution, so that no school struggled alone and fixes were shared widely upon discovery.

The overarching lesson is this: IT talent at the school level makes the difference between success and failure. Planning for success must include strategies to build human capital to manage IT resources of ever increasing complexity. Here are our three key findings:

1.     The key predictor of success is the depth of human resources at the site level.

2.     Since rural schools have difficulty finding IT talent, one option is to use student level tech teams including the GenYES process to prepare student teams to address the specific tasks required for PARCC.

3.     Computer based testing assumes students are using computers for learning. Such use only results from intentional planning, support and expectations by school leaders.

New Mexico Leadership CadreOur schools vary greatly with respect to IT staffing. With 100,000 users, the data center at Albuquerque Public Schools is the largest in our state, larger than our national labs or commercial employers. At the other end of the spectrum, the tech team from Regional Educational Cooperative 6 consists of 4 people who serve 10 rural districts. They provided support at each district by recruiting a class of seniors, training them to modify configurations on workstations and browsers, and moving from machine to machine in each testing location.

One strategy for success next year is for schools to implement a program jointly developed by CBT and GenYES, to create teams of Student Technology Leaders, who will work directly with CBT IT professionals in resolving networking and device/browser configuration issues related to PARCC, including helping to staff the online Help Desk. Additionally, these teams will generate models for monitoring the “learning return on investment” from learning trajectories that align technology use for both instruction and assessment. Each student team provides support equivalent to 1.5 FTE adult tech staff. While PED doesn’t endorse vendors or programs, we are encouraging schools to evaluate whether this option is right for them.

A working infrastructure and trained staff who can deliver online testing is the starting line, not the finish line. Educators must make the link between substantial investments (of money and time for online assessments) with the potential learning gains that come from effective uses of the technology. Public-private partnerships designed to harness the talents of students can help us to both meet immediate needs and provide sustainable ways to “grow” the talents required for success from now on.


Ferdi800[1] Ferdi Serim helps people become more effective in “real life” by incorporating the power of digital learning communities focused on talent development. He has worked in many venues: Board Member of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN); State Ed Tech Director for New Mexico; Associate of the David Thornburg Center for Professional Development (and jazz musician).

He is the author of four books: NetLearning: Why Teachers Use the Internet; From Computers to Community: Unlocking the Potentials of the Wired Classroom; Information Technology for Learning: No School Left Behind, and Digital Learning: Strengthening and Assessing 21st Century Skills, from Jossey-Bass. Currently he serves as Educational Technology Coordinator for the NM Public Education Department, and as Executive Director of the New Mexico Society for Technology in Education, focused on helping increase every educator’s effectiveness.

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