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DISCONNECTIONS: EdSource Article Highlights Technological Challenges Facing Many California Schools in Delivering Online Assessments

This spring, some California schools, including some bordering Silicon Valley, could face difficulty in delivering online statewide tests developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium unless they receive improvements to their internet connections, according to an October 28 article in EdSource. The article notes that the California state legislature made $26.7 million in funding available in June to improve schools’ internet connections, but more money is needed.

Teri Sanders, senior director of education technology at the Imperial County Office of Education/K–12 High Speed Network, which works with most of the state’s schools to improve their routing and connection to the internet, tells EdSource that all of the available money could be spent on eight or nine counties in northern California. “These sites that have zero to very low connectivity are in areas that are so sparsely populated [that commercial internet providers] have never invested in building to the areas,” Sanders said.

The article highlights challenges facing schools with no or limited access to high-speed connections. For example, Corey Kidwell, superintendent of the Loma Prieta Joint Union School District, located 30 minutes from Silicon Valley, told EdSource that online assessments “sucked all of the bandwidth out of the schools and the shared resources in the community. … Last year we basically had to disrupt instruction for at least three weeks because nobody could use computers while the 365 students took the test.”

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, students experienced a variety of technological problems during the Smarter Balanced field tests last spring, including being bumped off the test site, screens freezing, and problems logging in, the article notes.

E-rate, the federal government’s largest education technology program, supports internet connectivity and other communications services for the nation’s schools and libraries, but traditionally provided little support for Wi-Fi even as students, teachers, and library patrons increasingly rely more on tablets, laptops, and other devices to access the internet. In July 2014, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to modernize E-rate with the goal of providing greater Wi-Fi access to millions of students. Still, challenges remain in delivering high-speed internet connections to rural schools and libraries and ensuring that sufficient funding exists to meet E-rate funding needs.

In comments submitted September 15, 2014, the Alliance for Excellent Education called on the FCC to increase the funding cap for the E-rate program to ensure that all students, especially those most disadvantaged, have access to high-speed internet connections and anytime, anywhere learning.

“Reliable access to high-speed broadband is as important to learning today as traditional textbooks were fifty years ago,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “The FCC’s vote in July to modernize E-rate was a critical first step, but now the FCC must permanently increase funding for E-rate so that at least 99 percent of the nation’s students have access to high-speed broadband in their schools and libraries within the next five years.”

The complete EdSource article, “Many Schools Lack Internet Capacity for Tests,” is available at http://edsource.org/2014/schools-lack-internet-capacity-for-tests/68797#.VFb6D_nF_hm.

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