Md.’s new need for tech has schools asking for $100 mil

Back in 2002, I pleaded for a balanced role of technology in our schools, writing that for schools, “introducing technology will not solve any problems—simply because the absence (or shortage) of technology was never the problem in the first place.” It was a thoughtful plea to slow down the spending on the latest and greatest computer and spend more on educational programs like media resources, trips to historic places, real professional development, and so on. A lot has changed since then.

Although entrepreneurs often contend that seeing, say, a physics lesson on a computer screen somehow helps students visualize, learn, or remember fluid dynamics, the fact is, with the majority of kids, that’s not how it works. Good teachers who can make effective use of technology have an easier time helping students visualize, learn, and remember fluid dynamics, but good teachers would be able to drive the lesson home just fine with or without the technology.

Technology isn’t going to help our schools solve any of their existing problems. We therefore need to create brand new problems in order to demonstrate to the voting public a real need for technology in our schools, and that’s where tests come in, especially the tests that are going to be given online.

By requiring online testing, our lawmakers have conveniently created a need for bandwidth and high-powered servers. Now we all of a sudden do have a drastic shortage of technology, and schools need money—which only benevolent politicians can provide—in order to buy computers and increase their bandwidth. Hardware is quite tangible in a campaign, so the idea usually appeals to politicians. Tests from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers will be available on paper through 2017, as Rhode Island Commissioner of Education Deborah A Gist answered Voxitatis at a town-hall meeting last summer:

But as you see, she didn’t respond to the follow-ups, which are closer to the questions schools are asking today since they don’t want to spend too much now in purchasing equipment that will be obsolete by the time the PARCC tests are operational.

In all, the schools in Maryland will need about $100 million in technology upgrades in order to administer the tests from PARCC online, according to representatives from the Maryland State Department of Education who briefed delegates and state senators Wednesday in Annapolis. Not all the money will be spent on equipment, either. In some cases, information technology staff is needed—just a few more non-educators we’re bringing into our schools.

“The big takeaway was that the biggest impediment to making sure that the PARCC tests come off a year from now, without the kind of problems we’ve had with the health exchange website, is too many of the counties are too far behind in investing in their digital infrastructure,” the Baltimore Sun quoted state Sen James C Rosapepe, a member of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, as saying.

PARCC releases complete interactive sample tests

No, Mr Senator, the biggest impediment to the success of PARCC is the quality of the tests themselves. Let’s be honest: kids will blow right by any technology hang-up, as long as the adults in the room don’t get too frazzled by it. Plus, most of the questions on sample tests from PARCC in English language arts are multiple choice anyway, not requiring any more technology than what schools have today.

See for yourself what the tests from PARCC will look like. Allow me to take this opportunity to direct you to Pearson’s TestNav site, where sample tests, complete with lots of interactive test items for both math and English language arts in three grade bands (3–5, 6–8, high school), were published today.

Click here and select the “Sample Items” tab, then select the grade band and test you’d like to take. You’ll be able to step through a real sample test from PARCC. Practice, practice, practice.

Some results presented to lawmakers

In Maryland, 11 of the 24 school districts put their computer systems through a test that predicts how ready they are to administer the PARCC tests online. In those 11 counties, about 85 percent of the schools were found to be not ready for the online PARCC tests. To break it down by grade level:

  • 46.65% of elementary schools are technology-ready for assessment and instruction
  • 26.57% of middle schools are technology-ready for assessment and instruction
  • 8.96% of high schools are technology-ready for assessment and instruction

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more biographical information, see the About page.