Education officials say they are taking a three-pronged approach – device, personnel, and network readiness — to prepare for the fully computerized PARCC assessments which will be taken by students in grades 3-11.
The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), an exam developed to measure college and career readiness, will be administered to city students in March, leading some school board members to raise concerns whether the district is prepared to administer an exam that’s fully computerized.
Device and network
“I’m gravely concerned because our equipment is not optimal across the district,” said Jonathan Hodges, during the board’s re-organization.
District technology supervisor Kenneth Sumter said a good number of computers have been upgraded to meet the system requirements necessary to run the assessments. He said the district has upgraded majority of its computers to Windows 7 and had has been using a computer application to check each machine to ensure it meet PARCC’s technical requirements.
He also said the district has purchased 1500 computers in case there are crashes and deployments are needed.
Sumter, who spoke before the school board on Wednesday, said the district has also obtained additional bandwidth to ensure a smooth run when thousands of students take to the computers in March.
“We’re talking about upwards of 50 schools with x amount of kids in each school, all logging on at the same time which means our bandwidth needs to be expanded,” added Manny Martinez, school board member. “We’re going to have to expand that significantly.”
In December, the district awarded a contract doubling its internet bandwidth. Sumter said the district has an internet connection from the Passaic County Community College if additional bandwidth is necessary. He also mentioned a backup connection from a consortium in Monmouth County.
Chief reform and innovation officer Laurie Newell said the district was part of last year’s field testing of the assessments, during which Pearson, the company that hosts the assessments, suffered a server crash. She said the district’s computers functioned as they ought to; however, during the field run 2,000 students were involved: in March that number will be much higher.
Newell said in the coming weeks the district will run more tests and do dry-runs leading up to the exam on March 2nd, 2015. The performance-based assessment (PBA) will be administered beginning March 2nd-27th; the end-of-year assessment (EOY) will run from April 27th-May 22nd.
“Will it simulate the total number of students that are going to be taking the test at one time?” asked Kenneth Simmons, school board member, to determine whether a practice run serves as sufficient predictor for the upcoming scenario.
Sumter answered in the affirmative stating he intends to simulate an entire grade level.
“The plan is to test one complete grade at a time and have two different testing cycles per day,” said state-appointed superintendent Donnie Evans. “The test is to take a complete grade and make them fully operational at any given time – we should go beyond that just to be cautious.”
“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong,” said Simmons. He said he was not comfortable with Sumter’s system testing method. “It doesn’t encompass everything.”
Simmons said to fully test how much load a network is able to handle is to simulate all activities that are likely to take place on the actual exam day.
“When you put the entire district on the system at the same time that’s where we have our concern,” said Newell during the re-organization session. Errol Kerr, during the same January 7th, 2014 session, asked what will happen if a student’s computer crashes during the exam.
Deputy superintendent Eileen Shafer at the time responded that computer technicians will be deployed throughout the city. “We are deploying the entire technology department by ward so they are in the field and readily available,” she said. Each of the technicians will be responsible for a cluster of school in a given neighborhood.
“Do you plan to have extra computers available in the classrooms?” asked Hodges.
“We will have extra cart and extra laptops at each of the different schools,” responded Newell. “We want to make sure that if there is an issue with the device we don’t have to come back to central office to get another item.”
Sumter on Wednesday said each school will have a device manager trained to handle certain issues like timeout problems. Education officials said such individuals have been training since last year and have an understanding of technology and the Common Core based assessments.
Rosie Grant, president of the Paterson Education Fund, did not buy the idea the district is prepared for the assessments.
“There have been discussions on whether or not places are technologically ready for PARCC,” said Grant. She said city students are not ready to take computerized exams because they do not have the same experience with technology as other more affluent districts with ubiquitous iPads and other gadgets.
“Computer labs are going to be used for the exam. There are students who won’t have access for regular teaching and learning for one-month at a time for two different time periods,” said Grant. “I don’t think we’re ready.”