Beyond Technology Readiness for Testing: Planning for Teaching, Learning and Assessment


As school districts transition from traditional paper-and-pencil student assessments to next generation online assessments, education leaders charged with helping their schools becoming ‘technology-ready’ must consider the implications, trends and context of the full range of technology issues that schools are and will be addressing. SETDA strongly encourages education policymakers and leaders to undertake a proactive systems approach to addressing school technology needs for the long-term—explicitly considering the present and future technology needs to meet curricular, instructional, assessment, professional learning and school operations goals. While the guidance provided on this site is by no means comprehensive, it does provide a framework for addressing critical questions for different nested dependencies of readiness. One can think of concentric circles of dimensions of ‘technology-readiness for assessment’, starting at the core and working outward to broader issues and implications:

  • Test readiness: Do schools and districts have the supported devices, required peripherals  and infrastructure sufficient to administer the assessments within the designated testing windows, and is that technology deployed appropriately for an efficient and effective administration?
  • Student readiness: Have students been provided ample opportunities to master tested knowledge, skills and abilities and with demonstrating their mastery of knowledge, skills and abilities via technologies similar to those that will be employed during testing? Are students comfortable with the technology they will be using to take the assessments?
  • Educator readiness: Have educators received the instructional support and professional learning necessary to instruct students in ways appropriate for the standards and assessments, including in effectively and routinely employing technology in teaching of tested content? Do educators have access to sufficient technology in their classrooms, including responsive technology support, to ensure seamless use of technology for both instruction and assessment?
  • School system readiness: Do districts provide adequate access to devices, software, broadband, technology support, and professional learning opportunities to address all aspects of the education enterprise? Does the district devote ongoing budget to technology and related needs, and is there a plan for sustainability? Are policies adequate to support digital teaching and learning?

All of these components to technology readiness are crucial and interdependent; while the short-term focus may be on readiness for testing, focusing on long-term school system readiness and capacity will help ensure that the needs of all students are met today and into the future.

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Test Readiness


Do schools and districts have the supported devices, required peripherals  and infrastructure sufficient to administer the assessments within the designated testing windows, and is that technology deployed appropriately for an efficient and effective administration?

Assess your student population for device planning
Different portions of your student population will have different academic needs, and therefore different technology needs. Determine the size of student populations for each type of assessment and ensure you have computing devices and related accessories in proportion to the specific need. For example, if one-quarter of a school’s student population consists of English learners who will be taking alternative assessments, at least 25 percent of computing devices used for assessments and instruction should match up with consortia technology requirements for those students.

Conduct a physical site survey to establish sufficient wired and wireless networking coverage and density
Networking for the purpose of assessment encompasses both wired and wireless connectivity. The first is more straightforward than the second. If your schools are using wired connectivity to take the online assessments, make sure you have a sufficient number of network ports in the spaces where testing will take place. Ensuring adequate wireless connectivity is more complicated because there are so many variables at play: the type of wireless access hardware used and the IEEE standard it follows, the number of users going online in a given area of the school, the types of applications being accessed, the types of computing devices used, the forms of radio interference that may exist in the environment, the layout of rooms, and even the kind of building materials used in the school’s construction. The IEEE 802.11n wireless standard, the one most typically used currently in schools, recommends one access point per 15-20 wireless devices or “clients.” A class with 20-30 students would therefore require the use of two access points. While more modern access points may be able to sustain a greater number of users, not all computing devices are equal in terms of their affect on wireless access point capacity. Conduct a rigorous physical site survey in every location of the school where assessment will take place utilizing wireless networking. The survey will help uncover forms of interference, identify optimal locations for placement of the wireless access points, and indicate the number of clients that can be supported in a given location. But the ultimate test is to put the same number of users into a room where instruction and assessment will take place and have them work on their devices doing comparable activities (streaming video, getting to various websites, etc.) to see how well the network functions.

Ensure consistency in devices used for assessment and devices used for instruction
The devices used in the classroom should also be comparable to the same devices upon which the assessments will take place. If tablets pervade in the classroom, that’s what students should be using for testing. If laptop computers are the standard, then the same kinds of computers should be in place for assessment as well. Technology not routinely used during the instructional day or during ordinary classroom testing is not appropriate during state-mandated testing. Consistency in devices is especially true for English Language Learners and students with disabilities, so headphones, assistive/adaptive devices and other technologies used during instruction should be the same as those used with assessments.

The ultimate goal is that there is sufficient bandwidth and devices so that full teaching and learning can continue in a school at the same time that assessment is taking place.


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Student Readiness


Have students been provided ample opportunities to master tested knowledge, skills and abilities and with demonstrating their mastery of knowledge, skills and abilities via technologies similar to those that will be employed during testing? Are students comfortable with the technology they will be using to take the assessments?

Prepare students
Students gravitate to new uses of technology in the classroom, and they tend to be willing to experiment. However, proficiency with technology needs to go beyond the ability to text friends to comfort with use for academic purposes. From an early age students must be prepared to handle the computing requirements for online assessments that call for the efficient use of a keyboard and mouse (or other pointing device) to demonstrate mastery of tested knowledge, skills, and abilities. Sitting down to take an online assessment should not be the first exposure students receive to the workings of the computing device they are now expected to test on.

Students also should receive exposure to the online assessments before your state’s summative testing window, including opportunities to practice on sample items and with the testing software. The two general assessment consortia—Smarter Balanced and PARCC—both provide sample assessment items that allow students to work through the various forms of test questions in order to have a basic understanding of what will be expected of them when they are sitting in front of the live assessments.

Give students ample time on and appropriate experiences with computing devices
The days are gone when students are marched in a line to the computer lab to spend classroom time performing “drill and practice” exercises. Instead, students need a robust instructional experience that integrates the appropriate use of technology throughout the school day, not just a few minutes in the lab learning how to do point and click. In addition, instruction needs to incorporate the use of computing in ways envisioned by college and career ready standards, such as the Common Core and other state education standards, including a focus on improving critical thinking and other higher-order skills. Committing to that calls for regular in-classroom access to devices and bandwidth and a teacher who is well grounded in expectations for student learning and prepared to facilitate the integration of technology into lessons.

Include all students 
Certain students, such as those with disabilities and English language learners, and their teachers may face unique challenges finding technology to fit their specific needs and learning to integrate these technologies in the students’ learning; however, these students need the same robust instructional experiences and time with technologies as a part of instruction as any other students.  A number of external sources—state special education agencies, non-profits, and other entities—can help the IEP team and other educators working with special populations to plan their strategies for the use of appropriate technology in instruction and assessments. All the assessment consortia have good resources to learn more about testing with accommodations. One rule of thumb emerging across the board: accommodations for assessments should be consistent with the ones used during classroom instruction. Accommodations that are not routinely used during the instructional day or during ordinary classroom testing are not appropriate during state-mandated testing.


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Educator Readiness


Have educators received the instructional support and professional learning necessary to instruct students in ways appropriate for the standards and assessments, including in effectively and routinely employing technology in teaching of tested content? Do educators have access to sufficient technology in their classrooms, including responsive technology support, to ensure seamless use of technology for both instruction and assessment?

Provide educators with professional learning opportunities and direct support
Preparing students for new learning standards and their accompanying assessments also requires educators to adapt their instructional approaches. Professional learning is vital to helping teachers integrate new learning tools into their instructional practices and to helping administrators understand what will be required of their schools in making the transition to online assessment and how they can best support students and teachers. Even before online assessment is introduced to students, educators must have sufficient time and resources to prepare themselves for the transition. That includes not only training on the basic technical requirements of the online assessments, but also aligned instructional approaches utilizing technology.

Instructional technology facilitators or coaches have proven to be a powerful lever for providing just‐in‐time support to educators as they shift to new instructional practices and the use of online assessments. This direct one-on-one and small group instructional assistance can show teachers how to modify and deliver their lessons to take advantage of new technology resources. To be effective, districts should consider assigning at least one instructional technology expert to each school (depending upon size) in order to accelerate the adoption of new forms of instruction and assessment.

Prepare and involve IT staff
Supporting the shift to online assessment and learning that integrates computing devices tends to fall at least partially on the shoulders of the district’s technology staff. As with every other stakeholder group, these individuals need to be at the table to learn about and contribute to changing priorities as well as trained to support the use of technology in the hands of more and more users. Also, IT staff size may need to be reconsidered in light of growing support needs. As technology becomes more tightly integrated into the assessment and learning processes, educators and students need to be able to count on equipment and connectivity that works when they want it; otherwise, they risk loss of productivity in the classroom.


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School System Readiness


Do districts provide adequate access to devices, software, broadband, technology support, and professional learning opportunities to address all aspects of the education enterprise? Does the district devote ongoing budget to technology and related needs, and is there a plan for sustainability? Are policies adequate to support digital teaching and learning?

Plan for learning, not just assessment

While many schools and districts are working to determine if they have sufficient bandwidth and enough devices to implement online assessment smoothly, technology readiness for assessment is not a one-time event. It is instead a process that will need to be revisited periodically. Districts will find that they are able to make better choices over time as they move through the transition from paper-and-pencil testing to online assessment. SETDA recommends school and district leaders proactively assess needs for technology for the long-term in order to meet present and future needs – and not just for assessment, but also to meet curricular, instructional, assessment, professional learning and school operations needs. Being proactive means regularly reviewing the status of progress toward technology integration to ensure lessons learned and best practices are addressed. On a regular basis bring together a corps of stakeholders—district and school leaders, teachers, IT professionals, parents, and students—to evaluate the outcomes of previous decisions related to the use of technology in assessments and instruction and to inform future decisions.

Ensure robust broadband connectivity to and throughout all schools

Districts need to consider a variety of aspects related to internet connectivity and capacity. Connectivity starts with the broadband coming into the district, moves through to connections between buildings, to classrooms within the building and to each student and educator. Each step in the chain needs to be sufficient not only for individual users, but for large numbers of concurrent users across schools and even districts (depending on network design). Districts will find that it is likely more cost-effective to plan for future needs in upgrading connectivity, as marginal improvements to meet short run demands will likely only serve temporary needs.

In order to accommodate the bandwidth needed for both instructional activities and online assessments, schools need to appraise the speed with which they are adopting new models of learning. For example, look to the extent to which you’ll be transitioning from traditional print textbooks and supplementary materials to digital curriculum in your classrooms. Assess the types of educational materials that are being used in the classroom today as well as in future years as instruction becomes more dependent on digital content. The typical website that will be streaming video to your students consumes far more bandwidth than the use of webpages for reading. Be sure to include these needs in your estimates of broadband connectivity needs over and above any needed for testing.

By tracking data and establishing metrics, education leaders can help determine how quickly your district may need to ramp up its bandwidth needs. SETDA recommends districts plan for an external Internet connection to the Internet service provider of 100 Kbps per student by the 2014-2015 school year, rising to 1 Mbps per student by the 2017-2018 school year. Internal connections between the district data center and schools and among and between schools themselves should be at least 1 Mbps per student by 2014-2015, rising to 10 Mbps per student by 2017-2018.

Develop a plan for managing infrastructure long-term

In the long-term, as the number and variety of computing devices grows on campus, managing them becomes more difficult and time-consuming. Without a solid plan and systems in place for supporting users and tending to devices and networks, students and teacher face the possibility of interruptions to teaching and learning resources they have come to rely upon. The plan should address multiple areas: computing device standards and security requirements, network access by role, automation of updates to operating systems and applications, the technical support response workflow, and similar aspects of IT management. The goal is to be proactive in delivering support, phasing out legacy devices while making new equipment purchases, and keeping ahead of new computing needs as they develop.

A guiding principle is that the older the inventory of computing devices, the more technical support needed to keep the equipment in working order and the greater the risk of disruption and lost productivity due to technology-related problems. The longer these devices are used, the greater the chance that serious problems will arise, resulting in lost student work and disrupted learning. Moreover, when a company or open source community no longer supports a given operating system, there’s increased risk of security difficulties and software incompatibility. Some online assessments only support specific versions of web browsers, but modern browsers may not work on older equipment.

Budget appropriately

Schools and districts that have prioritized the use of technology for teaching and learning have discovered that costs can be paid for – at least in part – by re-purposing funding already in place. While there will likely be one-time costs associated with technology readiness for assessment in some schools and districts, it is vital that technology costs be included as an ongoing line item in annual school budgets. IT and other school leaders have found that schools spending less than three to five percent of their overall budgets on devices and infrastructure are hard pressed to meet existing and future needs.

Leading states and school districts have pursued a variety of strategies to repurpose existing funding streams and to plan for recurring technology costs, including:

  • Pursuing joint purchasing agreements at a state or regional scale to secure the best pricing;
  • Repurposing traditional textbook spending;
  • Integrating the use of free open source software and open educational resources (OER) into the classroom to replace traditional textbooks;
  • Considering the total cost of ownership for technology—for devices, software, technical support, and maintenance, and upgrades—in deciding how frequently to replace purchased devices;
  • Evaluating whether leasing equipment is more advantageous than purchasing;
  • Conducting advance planning to address the need to refresh devices on a regular cycle; and,
  • Applying for grants to fund one-time technology infrastructure upgrades.

Prepare the school community

As schools make the transition to digital instruction and assessment, it is incumbent on district leaders to put together and implement a communications plan that informs and engages with each of the key school stakeholder groups crucial to sustained success—including the immediate school community, such as families, and the broader community, such as local businesses and government. Information needs to emphasize the overarching reasons for the use of technology in schools, including around concerns for children’s future success: Standards in school and life are rising. Adoption of new forms of instruction and assessment are intended to address these higher expectations. School forums, webinars, videos, and related communication can help people understand the changes that are happening, why they’re necessary, and how they will help students. Also, these communication channels provide constituents with a way to have their questions and concerns heard and addressed.


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