A time when students will no longer use pencil and paper to take their exams is fast approaching.
As the Florida Department of Education begins to shift its focus to a complete online assessment testing format, ASPIRA of Florida and its IT Department are preparing to meet the challenge of providing its students with the necessary technology.
In times of budget cuts and financial restraints, the state is requiring an expansion of costly technology, while the amount of existing resources and staffing remains the same, essentially requiring schools to do more with the same amount of money.
For this 2011-2012 school year, the state is mandating that all sixth graders take the reading portion of their FCAT online. The following year will require that these sixth graders take both reading and math solely online.
The ultimate goal is to have students nationwide taking exams virtually by 2015, with these tests being measured against the Common Core Standards, which provide benchmarks for gauging student success.
The beginning of such changes began last year, when ASPIRA's eighth grade Algebra 1 students were required to use computers to practice for and complete their End-Of Course tests, along with various other Interim Assessments. This year, however, the number will increase drastically from a small group, to an estimated 470 sixth graders required to participate in online testing.
"Another challenge we face is that the students have to forget the old strategies they used for taking written exams, and learn new techniques to be prepared for the online assessments," said Principal Fernando Lopez, who is the Director of Academic Programs and oversees all three of ASPIRA's charter schools.
As a proactive measure, a meeting was held in May among ASPIRA's key decision makers to discuss the impact of this educational shift and technological advancement. ASPIRA's IT Department proposed a solution that maximized the use of the instructional space by eliminating the need to create dedicated computer testing labs. As suggested, ASPIRA will be implementing an innovative program, which centers on the idea of mobile testing units.
The concept behind the mobile testing units is to have carts with laptops for each student in a class, so they can take the online assessments in their own classroom.
"When these carts of computers are rolled into the classroom, we are essentially transforming each room into an individual testing lab," explained Gilberto Conde-Genot, ASPIRA's Chief Information Officer.
At roughly $18,000, each computer cart contains 26 laptops, a laser printer, a dual band wireless access point, a mini switch, and capabilities for secured storage and charging, along with extended warranty on all parts.
Through technology school budget allocations and private donations, ASPIRA Raul Arnaldo Martinez Charter School and Eugenio Maria De Hostos Charter School have acquired three carts each and ASPIRA South Charter School two, thus expanding the technological infrastructure of the organization by an additional 208 computers at once, without increasing IT support staff or funding.
The impact on ASPIRA is one that will require arduous labor by the IT Department staff to deploy and maintain the current project, and the commitment of additional private donors to invest in the 2015 technology goals.
A collaborative effort has been made to prepare the students with the skills to succeed by providing them with the necessary technological and educational tools in a timely manner.
"We've been ahead of schedule in meeting the timeline for this project and are very pleased and proud of the results," said Conde-Genot.
"There's a lot of work still to do, but it's been a huge accomplishment," he added as the IT Department delivered the first mobile testing unit to the De Hostos Charter School.