Online Assessments are Changing How Districts Approach Technology in the Classroom
Districts around the country prepared for assessments like PARCC and Smarter Balanced this year, not only by ensuring students have a firm grasp of Common Core standards, but also by stepping up the technology infrastructure and students’ technology skills.
A major concern throughout the testing season was that the online assessments would be more a test of students’ keyboarding and other technology skills, rather than their understanding of the Common Core standards. In other words, students who were competent in the subject matter may have done poorly if they didn’t have a good grasp on how to use a computer.
Now that the initial round of testing is complete, it’s become clear that although some districts are already integrating technology instruction into everyday curriculum, the technical requirements of the new assessments mean that all districts need to make their students’ technology skills a priority.
Districts need a robust technology program in place
What’s clear from the coverage of the 2014-2015 school year’s online assessments is that technology infrastructure – and students’ technology skills – played a big part in how the tests went.
Of the 118 respondents to the Oregon Department of Education’s District Technology Capacity Survey from December 2014, 36 districts (about 30%) lacked confidence or expressed serious concerns about their students’ keyboarding skills. Only 21% of districts were “very comfortable” with their students’ keyboarding skills.
A survey by the Connecticut Department of Education found that a lack of technology skills was skewed disproportionately towards high-poverty schools, where students may not learn skills like keyboarding at home. Both surveys reveal that there is still much work to be done in terms of providing access to technology skills instruction.
Students need to be able to perform technology tasks like:
- selecting text
- dragging and dropping answers
- using embedded media players
Additionally, students need to be able to keyboard with speed and accuracy in order to type their answers to essay questions.
The Middletown Public Schools Technology Department provides a list of technology skills students will need to be able to take online assessments here, and recommends that teachers periodically ask students to demonstrate these skills.
The best practice is integrated into core instruction
To ensure a smooth transition to online assessments, students need to be practicing technology skills during everyday learning. Teaching technology skills in isolation isn’t as engaging or effective as integrating them into core subject-area instruction.
When students have a chance to practice typing essays and manipulating text during the course of existing projects, they’re more likely to see the value (and retain) the technology skills they’re learning.
The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) advocates this approach and it’s one that districts across the country have embraced.
In New Hampshire, schools are using practice tests to assess student skill level, with a focus on improving students’ keyboarding skills by exposing them to opportunities to type whenever they can. SETDA has a series of case studies on their website that show how districts around the US are readying themselves.
Want to learn more about integrating technology skills into core instruction?
Districts need to help students and teachers achieve the technological competency required to successfully navigate online assessments, through regular practice in the classroom setting.
Is your district struggling to find a solution? Learn how:
- A Tennessee district used Learning.com’s EasyTech to equip students with the skills they need to successfully take online assessments like Smarter Balanced and PARCC.
- A New Jersey district gave their non-technology instructors the tools – and confidence – to teach technology skills.
- An Arizona district successfully addressed gaps in their students’ technology skills in preparation for the state’s online Common Core assessments.