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Ed-tech leaders brace for online testing

Having so many students taking online exams at the same time will cause a huge strain on school networks, ed-tech leaders fear.

What keeps ed-tech leaders up at night? Making sure their schools are prepared to roll out high-stakes testing to students online by the 2014-15 school year is a chief concern, said panelists during a March 11 session at the Consortium for School Networking’s 2013 national conference in San Diego.

Two multi-state consortia, the Partnership for the Assessment of College and Career Readiness (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, are developing next-generation assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards, and students in more than 40 states will take the tests online beginning in 2014.

But having so many students taking online exams at the same time will cause a huge strain on school networks, ed-tech leaders fear.

Alabama is unique in that it supports the Common Core standards but does not belong to either PARCC or the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, said Donna Williamson, technology director for the Mountain Brook City Board of Education. Instead, the state is developing its own high-stakes test to be given online.

What Williamson fears most are the “unknown and unintended consequences” of moving forward with online testing at such a huge scale, she told conference attendees. She added: “We’ve never tried to test this many students online at once before.”

Her district has a 10-gigabit network backbone, but she’s still concerned. Once the students’ test responses leave the district, “there are so many things I can’t control,” she noted.

Jason Mooneyham, executive director of education programs for computer manufacturer Lenovo, said the good news is that “the race to high-stakes online testing has led to more investment in school networks.” But this shift is happening so quickly that it’s causing a huge challenge for ed-tech leaders, he added.

School district CTOs should carefully “test the testing. Test the bandwidth,” Mooneyham advised.

Bandwidth and other infrastructure challenges aren’t the only concerns that ed-tech leaders have about online testing.

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