Maryland Schools May Need $100 Million For Online Testing Deadline

Maryland's Department of Education recently released a report that shows the vast majority of schools in the state's 24 districts will need $100 million in technological upgrades to give the new online Common Core-aligned standardized state exams.

As reported by Liz Bowie and Erica Green of the Baltimore Sun, lawmakers briefed Wednesday said the magnitude of the hurdles that school districts face — and the price tags — are concerning.

"Some of the data that they showed us raises some concerns," said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat and member of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

Eleven of Maryland's twenty-four districts have recently completed tests administered by the non-profit organization Education Superhighway to test their capacity for holding the exams. The results reported that 85% of the schools in those districts are unprepared.

Harford County reported that it needed wireless internet in more than 50 schools, as well as more than 15,000 new devices and new staff to manage them.

In Howard County reports show that it needs 1,830 computers and software upgrades. In Anne Arundel County, the district will need at least 3,000 new laptops and Carroll County reported its greatest need being additional IT staff for its schools, which could cost the district $2.8 million.

"I just want to be sure that we're prepared," Pinsky said. "If not, we might need to look at slowing down. You don't jam this down a local jurisdiction's throat when they're not ready for it."

These new online exams will replace the Maryland School Assessments for grades 3-11 and align more closely with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exams that fit the Common Core State standards.

The tests are also designed to be more rigorous than the previously administered MSA's and be given over a greater span of days, nine instead of the MSA's previous four.

While a paper-and-pencil version of the test will be available for the first three years, schools are expected to give the tests online starting in spring 2015 and have full complacency by the school year of 2017-2018. The new online testing is hoped to be cheaper overall then producing paper copies for the districts.

Henry Johnson, assistant state superintendent for curriculum and assessment, said he is not concerned about the districts meeting the deadline of having the needed technology in place. He noted that some testing is done online now, and in many districts students take their science and writing assessments online. In fact, many of the smaller school districts have turned to online testing while larger districts such as Anne Arundel are still paper-based.

The greatest concern of school system leaders, Johnson said, is that they don't have enough computers to give the tests during a four-week window in March and May.

"We need to focus on getting this transition right and doing what's best for students, not rushing ahead without giving educators and students the support they need," said Adam Mendelson, spokesman for the Maryland State Education Association.

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