SAN FRANCISCO, April 6, 2015—California school districts have sufficient hardware and bandwidth to administer the new online standardized tests. But they struggle with software issues and staff training. These are among the key findings of a report released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).
More than 70 percent of respondents in a survey by the California Educational Technology Professionals Association expressed confidence in the quality and quantity of their hardware and network reliability to test all students. But only half of district respondents were confident about their ability to handle software issues, such as the installation of secure browsers, distribution of IDs, and quick log-ins for students.
A clear majority of districts reported problems with staffing: 68 percent of schools do not have enough staff to provide technical support or do not provide sufficient training for teachers and IT staff.
The tests—called the Smarter Balance assessments—are aligned with the new Common Core State Standards and are being rolled out this year. The PPIC report finds that districts are spending most of their Common Core implementation funding on teacher training and instructional materials, rather than technology upgrades.
The report recommends that policymakers take the nature of technology spending into account as they consider how to support districts’ needs in the future. Technology upgrades normally take place over a few years, and the one-time funding the state has provided is unlikely to cover their full cost.
“Regardless of their readiness today, districts will need targeted and ongoing support to both upgrade and maintain their technology infrastructure,” said Niu Gao, PPIC fellow and author of the report. “In the longer term, virtually all schools will need to make upgrades to adopt and benefit from digital learning—video conferencing, virtual field trips, and personalized audio-visual instruction.”
There is wide variation in district readiness for online testing. Districts that spend more money per pupil tend to have fewer concerns about software or staffing readiness. And size matters. Network upgrades are less cost effective and more challenging for districts that are particularly small or particularly large. But the report finds that other factors, such as student composition, student performance, district location, and neighborhood do not contribute to disparities in readiness.
The report concludes that better information would help policymakers understand and pinpoint technology needs more accurately. The state currently collects and publishes data on the number of computers per student and the number and percentage of classrooms connected to the Internet—which bear little relationship to schools’ technology readiness. More refined data on hardware, network, and staffing would provide a more complete picture.
The report is titled Are California’s Schools Ready for Online Testing and Learning? It is supported with funding from the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund.