Standards

Common-Core Tech Requirements Outlined

By Sean Cavanagh — February 06, 2013 2 min read

One of the two consortia designing tests for the Common Core State Standards recently released new guidance on the minimum technology standards states will need to meet to give those tests, beginning in 2014-15.

The Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, says the guidance is meant to provide direction to states and districts on the extent to which current technology meets testing standards, or whether upgrades will be required.

The document offers both “minimum specifications,” which would satisfy the consortium’s tech guidelines at least through 2014-15, and “recommended” ones, which would be expected to meet the group’s standards through the 2018-19 school year.

Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium Guide

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium has released an updated guide to technology requirements and recommendations for member states planning to implement the common-core assessment system the consortium is developing for the 2014-15 school year.

Under the framework, most schools should be able to implement the assessments, the organization says.

1. Move away from Windows XP (which is used by more than half of schools today) to Windows 7. Windows 8 might be acceptable, but further testing is needed. However, the assessments will work with Windows XP.

2. Upgrade computers to at least 1 gigabyte of internal memory. Most schools have already implemented this recommendation (63 percent, to be exact).

3. Ensure that all screens being used for the assessments have a visual display of no less than 9.5 inches, with at least a 1024 x 768 resolution. About 88 percent of schools have already met this recommendation. The assessments could work with an 8-inch screen, but 9.5 inches is the recommended width, the document says.

4. Student testing sites must operate on secure browsers. While data reports from the assessments can be accessed through Google Chrome, Safari on iOS, Firefox, and Internet Explorer 8, the organization will identify secure browsers each year that will be required for the actual test-taking. Those browsers will prevent students from being able to access anything except the exam.

5. The assessment requires about 5 to 10 kilobytes per second of bandwidth per student. The amount of bandwidth needed will depend on the specific assessments, some of which include animations, recorded audio, and other technology-enhanced items. Schools should estimate about 1 megabyte per second for every 100 students taking the assessment.

—Katie Ash

The other group leading states toward the development of tests to match the common core, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, has also released its own list of technology requirements and recommendations for 2014-15. (See box, this page.)

The new PARCC guidelines are “very similar” to the Smarter Balanced requirements, says Susan Van Gundy, the associate director for assessment technology for Achieve, an organization that is managing the partnership consortium’s work.

One of the requirements focuses on test security. All devices used during the tests—whether laptops, netbooks, or tablets—and operating systems must have the capability to “lock down” and temporarily disable features that present a security risk while exams are being given. Certain features would also need to be controlled during test administration, including unlimited Internet access, certain types of cameras, screen captures, email, and instant-messaging, the requirements say.

Some of the PARCC requirements are still to come. Minimum bandwidth requirements won’t be determined until next year, according to PARCC. But the group is setting the recommended bandwidth for external connections to the Internet at 100 kilobytes per second, per student, or faster, and the minimum for internal school networks at least at 1000 kilobytes per second, per student.

Desktop and laptop computers, netbooks, and thin clients are among the allowable testing devices. Smartphones will not be allowed for 2014-15, because they do not meet the minimum 9.5-inch screen size, Van Gundy says. Tablets that meet the standards will be allowed. (Smarter Balanced has also said a 9.5-inch screen should be the standard.)

Standards for operating systems vary. The minimum standards for Windows, for instance, is Windows XP/Service Pack 3, though looking ahead, Windows 7 or newer is recommended.

Douglas Levin, the executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, says the PARCC guidelines “do a good job of conveying that this is going to be an ongoing process.”

A version of this article appeared in the February 06, 2013 edition of Digital Directions as Common-Core Tech Requirements Outlined

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