This year’s news that ERB would be moving assessments to online formats was met with mixed emotions. While providing instant feedback and allowing students to take exams digitally were apparent benefits, the questions came just as quickly for our school. For the first year, we decided to pilot online testing with 3rd and 6th grades only.
How would that work? The first question we had to answer dealt with devices. Our school doesn’t own PC for every student. We have class-sets of iPads in K-2, 1:1 Linux/Windows netbooks in 3rd through 5th grades, then a FLEx 1:1 in Middle School program which includes Chromebooks, iPads, Macbooks, Windows laptops and more. ERB’s secure browser does not work on a Linux platform, which ruled out our 144 netbooks, and the cost of leasing laptops was prohibitive. Another issue: ERB’s recommendation was to avoid using wireless access, which added another level of logisitics to consider. Hubs for every 5 computers? Temporary computer labs during testing week?
A couple of months before testing week, I discovered via twitter that ERB was preparing an iPad app for the CTP Online. While using an app relies on wireless access, approximately 75% of our FLEx 1:1 students bring iPads to school. The other 20% or so bring laptops, which they could use for testing, and the students with Chromebooks, Kindles, or without a device, could borrow a school iPad. Third graders could simply use the school-owned K-2 iPads for the 3 mornings of testing.
One Week Before
Preparation for testing week included importing a .csv file of student data from our student information system, downloading the secure browser on tech lab computers (for backup devices) and school-owned iPads. We also worked with each middle school student to ensure that the CTP Online could be accessed from their own laptop or iPad. The only glitches we encountered were students not remembering to use their given name when logging in (the system doesn’t recognize “Squirrel” even though that’s what everyone on campus calls you), and students without sufficient permissions on their laptops to download ERB’s browser. We also met with section proctors to show them what the app and browser look like, and how to set up sessions through ERB’s online portal.
Bandwidth monitoring and traffic throttling on our Meraki gear helped ensure that students taking the test online would have sufficient access, and Meraki’s wireless access points continued to perform extremely well. All students were asked to leave their devices at school between test days, and they brought chargers so each morning every device was charged for the day. Students did experience a few connection errors throughout testing sessions, but after seeing that bandwidth was ample, I’m guessing ERB’s servers may have been dealing with some significant traffic. All students had to do, though, was log back in to the test and pick up right where they left off. Proctors and students alike handled the connection errors quickly, while pausing the test if needed, so it had minimal impact. Overall, CTP Online could be considered a success.
For Next Year…
ERB: please develop a preparation environment for test proctors and students. The professional development and preparation pieces of the CTP Online are still quite lacking. Also, please complete the science portion of the app. It had been promised well before our test week, but was not ready, so we didn’t administer the science portion to our online students. As of my last conversation with ERB, there is no ETA for the science app.
Feedback from students has been interesting. They were more cautious than I anticipated about changing to an online test environment, but once they had, really seemed to appreciate only seeing one question at a time and the ability to flag and review all questions before completing a session. It will be interesting to see if there are trends we can detect between online and paper/pencil assessments. While we all agree that standardized assessments are only one piece of comprehensive evaluation (at best), I don’t see them going anywhere soon. Used well, results can guide professional development and curriculum decisions…and integrating technology for test delivery seems to show promise.