Posted: 10:59 am Thursday, May 12th, 2011
By Allison Ross
Concerns from school district administrators about aging technology and the move to do more standardized tests via computer appear to be well-founded.
On Monday, students across the county were slated to begin the state’s new standardized exam for algebra 1, which is done on a computer.
But problems with a hardware switch meant that students at Palm Beach Lakes High, William T. Dwyer High and the Palm Beach County Jails had to postpone taking the test for a day as the school district worked to fix the infrastructure problem.
The students were able to begin the test on Tuesday, but administrators say it was a significant disruption, and foreshadows further problems as more and more standardized tests go online.
“It was a pretty big disruption for the schools,” said Marc Baron, the Palm Beach County School District’s chief of performance accountability. “Everything is planned pretty tight.”
Chief Information Officer Deepak Agarwal said that the technology infrastructures at schools is 10 years old in some locations. He added that 40 percent of schools need replacement switches like the ones required for these three schools.
“With the added testing on computers, we’re pumping more bandwidth, using these switches,” Agarwal said. “And we’ll be doing even more computer testing down the road.”
Both Baron and Agarwal noted that the school district had done infrastructure testing in advance of this spring’s testing season so they could be as ready as possible.
“We were as prepared as we could be,” Baron said. “The electrical devices are getting old. There’s no way to predict when they’ll fail.”
The Palm Beach Post has previously written about the district’s concerns about the state’s first big move to computer-based exams.
This year, 10th graders took their math FCATs via computer, with few reported problems in the district. Students in Algebra 1 are currently taking their end-of-course exams sometime between this week and May 27.
A smaller group of students retook their FCAT math and reading tests on computers between March 30 and April 6; the district said those tests went relatively smoothly.