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New Electronic Testing Standards Mean Big Expenses for Dearborn Schools

With the state requiring computer-based assessments for the 2014-15 school year, the Dearborn Public School Board will need to debate how to meet new standards with few funding options.

Forget Scantrons and No. 2 pencils. Standardized testing will look very different for the Michigan students of 2014 and beyond.

That’s because the Michigan Department of Education is replacing the traditional, standardized Michigan Education Assessment Program, or MEAP, exams with new, electronic assessments that will assess students in math, reading and writing.

But the change is going to be an expensive proposition for Dearborn Public Schools.

The Dearborn Board of Education, which steers policy for the 19,000-student district, will have to make a decision about how to pay for the unfunded mandate in the cash-strapped district—which could include asking voters to approve a bond, or a sinking fund, to help pay for needed technological upgrades required by the state.

“(These are) dollars that are not available in our current budget by far,” said Trustee Joseph Guido. “My question is if the state and the federal government is moving to online testing, could that be considered a mandate that could carry some funding with it?”

Troy Patterson, the district’s technology coordinator, said there might be some federal or state funds available, such as Section 22-I funds, $50 million of which was awarded to Michigan for grants to districts or intermediate districts to develop or improve technology.

However, it’s unlikely the district will get enough 22-I funding to pay for all of the upgrades that are needed.

“Every school district is in the same kind of situation,” he said. “It’s not going to be able to do much to impact what we need to do.”

Upgrades Needed

Supt. Brian Whiston said that the district is technologically in a good place, but the various upgrades are needed.

“As the state moves to online testing, and we as a district move to online testing, we are finding we don’t have the equipment necessary to do that,” he said.

Currently, the district is in the process of determining what equipment and software is needed, and how much it will cost, Patterson said. The district owns about 5,000 computers, but several of those don’t meet sate criteria in terms of memory, software, operating systems, and screen resolution, Patterson said.

“We also put in a whole lot of new computers about 10 years ago, and unfortunately we replaced a small slice of those due to funding and other situations that have gone on,” he said.

Complicating matters further is what equipment is needed, he added.

“We think of computers, but I’m using an iPad today, and the iPad can be used for a number of things, and more generically tablets because we’re not sure that in two years that it’s going to be an iPad, it may be another type of tablet,” Patterson said.

One bright spot is the district’s network, which was advanced when it was implemented after a technology bond was approved 10 years ago.

“The board wisely invested in infrastructure with a bond that we passed about 10 years ago now. We put in a lot of infrastructure that is still adequate, that is still state of the art today, and that planning ahead and that investment has served us well and continues to serve us well,” Patterson said. “We do need to do a little tweaking with it, but for the most part, the optics for the buildings are what most districts are trying to catch up with.”

Wireless technology, though, crept up on the district, and will likely be an area that requires a major investment, Patterson said.

“We do face some major challenges in wireless,” he said. “Ten years ago, there was no real push for wireless, now, everyone expects wireless. Some of our buildings do have wireless, a few of them, and that’s been done by initiatives within buildings. But it is a challenge that we’d like to address district-wide, to be able to provide that.”

Measuring Progress

In addition to being entirely online, the new statewide assessments will measure student proficiency by using a common question first. Subsequent questions will them based on the prior answer; if the student answered the first question correctly, a more difficult question will follow. An incorrect response will yield an easier question, Patterson said.

Michigan is one of 40 states that have adopted the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium guidelines, which are consistent with Common Core Standards in math and language arts.

Board President Mary Lane said she’s concerned confusion about how the test works could affect student scores. “I just wonder whether at least initially those will impact test scores if kids aren’t familiar with the test mechanism,” she said.

Patterson said the district will work to create familiarity with the tests among students and teachers.

“It’s not just the kids that need to get the experience, it’s the staff members, too, in part because there are some different skills you need in order to take a test online, or electronically,” he said. “The teachers need to understand how to help the kids prepare for that.”

Aridog January 14, 2013 at 10:18 PM
I'm unclear on what this means. Does it mean that student evaluation will require on-line testing, or wireless, or both? More planning and unfunded mandates by bureaucratic dweebs ahead of capability? Of course it is...I was a "fed" and military soul...we got to be very good at demanding stuff, not so much in producing anything.
City of Dearborn January 15, 2013 at 02:58 AM
Yes, student evaluation starting in the spring of 2014 will be online for all Michigan students (and students in 24 other states). This test will replace the MEAP, but Dearborn - like many districts - is grappling with the reality that it could mean big technological upgrades are needed, such as new computers. Here's more information on the new test: http://dearborn.patch.com/articles/just-the-facts-smarter-balanced-assessment-consortium
Lee Jacobsen January 15, 2013 at 07:33 AM
It appears, after reading the article , that the school system infrastructure is adequate, just that the computers are somewhat dated. Here is a thought that may work. Make known the minimum computer requirements, memory, capacity, windows 7 , etc, and have the students buy their own computers. Have the cost of the computer, via a receipt etc, be 25% deductible from the resident's school tax bill. In other words, a tax credit. That way, the student gets what is needed, will be responsible for it as it is student property, not the school's, and the school system won't be stuck with outmoded computers and the worry of theft, security , etc. Further, offer the tax credit to anyone who purchases a computer for a Dearborn student, and extend that offer to businesses that want to help as well for students that can't afford computers. That will cost the school system some funds, but free up 95% that would have otherwise been spent. Do the same each year. Computers are no more expensive than cell phones, most students already have a computer that meets the specs so buying computers may not even be a need. Like college, just bring your laptop, ipad, whatever to school. That avoids duplicity of equipment and saves us taxpayers money. The school board should upgrade to wireless, and that should not cost much if put to a competitive bid. I just had my plant wireless upgraded for less than 2 grand. For ten grand, the school board, with union labor, could do the same.

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