Like many educational technology programs around the country, Utah’s efforts to start new programs are fighting a lack of funding in order to move forward.
“We’re trying to stay afloat like every other state,” says Rick Gaisford, the education technology specialist for the Utah Office of Education. “We are, like most other states, deeply concerned about federal cuts.”
But Utah is continuing to move forward with some of its own technology efforts, particularly online testing, which is a central part of the state’s accountability system for education. In fiscal 2005, the legislature provided $5 million for the effort, but for 2006, the contribution will be cut in half, to $2.5 million, Gaisford says. This is the third year that students in grades 3 through 12 have taken standardized state tests online.
A statewide telecommunications network was funded at $16 million for the 2004-05 school year, an increase of about $1 million from the previous school year.
One of the biggest technological endeavors the state has launched in the past year is the Utah Test Item Pool Service, or UTIPS. The Web site provides a testing service for teachers statewide at no cost. Teachers can use questions from the site or have the site create tests for them that they can use as practice tests or to gather information about how students are performing and how they will do on state tests. Gaisford says the site had been, on average, providing 40,000 tests a month to teachers.
Meanwhile, the state is taking other steps to upgrade students’ technology skills. For instance, it now requires that all Utah students, starting with the graduating class of 2006, complete a computer-technology class with an emphasis on basic computer skills. (Students can test out of the course if they have the necessary skills.)
Students have the option of taking the course online through the state’s electronic high school, which has been in operation since 1994. The electronic high school offers classes that cover the entire core high school curriculum—from art to physics—and including Advanced Placement courses. About 30,000 students have registered to take courses from the school, though not all of them may be taking classes at one time.
The state also sponsors a program called Online Archive Services, which helps new teachers or those gearing up to go into the classroom compile electronic portfolios of lesson plans and classroom work.