Online Assessments: Catalyst or Catastrophe?
When Ohio announced that it would be moving to online testing via the PARCC assessment, there was a collective groan from technology leaders across the state. The state was notorious for creating an initiative that mandated compliance, but then failing to provide the resources to ensure success or even back pedaling on an idea all together. For the most part though, these initiatives didn’t have much of an impact on the technology department. (All day kindergarten for example.) This one though, landed squarely on the doorstep of every technology director in the state. Online assessments would require devices, infrastructure, and training. At the time, this appeared to be a train wreck in the making.
I’ve come to realize that the move to online assessments was a catalyst, not a catastrophe. Here are three major changes that occurred as a result.
1. Accelerating the 1:1 movement
While some districts had begun to move in this direction with pilots or even grade level adoptions, there were not too many schools dipping their feet in the 1:1 waters four years ago. The online assessment announcement forced districts to think about how they were going test students in their existing environments. Schools had to determine if their existing labs could accommodate the testing schedule, the amount of students, and the technical requirements of an online assessment that had not yet been developed. The conversation quickly moved into financial concerns of how to increase access to online testing friendly devices. After much debate, many districts chose to move into a 1:1 computing environment through district provided machines or through a bring your own device model to accomplish the need for increased access.
2.Increasing wireless access and bandwidth
The potential bandwidth requirements for these new assessments was hotly debated across the state for almost two years as everyone speculated on how the state planned to deliver these online exams. Theories ran wild, but one message was clear: schools would need more bandwidth. The presumed need for additional internet bandwidth combined with the 1:1 movement lead to massive wireless upgrades across the state. It seemed like every school in the state was evaluating their wireless (or lack thereof) and implementing a plan to increase it.
3. Reevaluating the technology curriculum
Along the same lines as the bandwidth conversation, rumors of technology rich assessment questions spread like wildfire among curriculum directors. The exams were going require to use a technology skill set many feared that students did not possess. I would argue that the phrase “They’re gonna need to know how to do that for the PARCC test” must have been uttered hundreds of thousands of times since the initial announcement. There was heightened concern for the younger students and their capability to perform the technical abilities. The positive that came from all of these conversations was a deeper look at the technology curriculum. The curriculum was adjusted and educators began working with students to develop those skills. In my opinion, it became evident that teachers were underestimating their students’ technical abilities. Fast forward to the present where you’ve got kindergarten kids participating in international Hour of Code events. I doubt many (if any) districts were teaching kindergartners how to code four years ago.
Regardless of your views on state mandated testing, PARCC, opting out, waivers, and all of the other educational philosophy that come with those things, its hard to argue that online assessments were a mistake for the state of Ohio. The decision to move in this direction has positively impacted the educational landscape of many school districts in our state. Students are learning new skills with access to more devices via a faster internet connection.