(Albuquerque Journal (NM) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 15--The Rio Rancho school district knows what it must do to be ready for next year's switch to a new, online statewide proficiency exam, but getting there isn't so simple.
District officials said this week they are excited about the new test, which will be aligned to the Common Core State Standards, but it does present challenges. For the cash-strapped and overcrowded district, two of the biggest obstacles are purchasing enough computers or devices so students can take the test online and finding spaces large enough to accommodate students during testing.
Happy Miller, executive director of research, assessment, data and accountability, said the district will also have to start making sure students are "technology literate" and know how to use a keyboard by third grade, adding to the already robust list of expectations for teachers.
"It becomes a question of where do you find instruction time for that," she said.
This month, students statewide are taking the New Mexico Standards Based Assessment to measure whether they are proficient in the areas of math and reading. The test, for the most part, is taken with a pencil and paper.
Next year, the test will look very different. Students in grades 3 through 11 will take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. The new test accompanies the Common Core standards, which emphasize critical thinking skills. It will be taken completely online. If enrollment numbers stay even, the district will test about 11,700 students next year.
Miller said there is no exact count on how many computers the district has, but officials know for sure they do not have an individual device or computer for each student. The state Public Education Department has recommended a 5 to 1 ratio of students to computers, but Miller said the district is not at that ratio, either.
Mike Kenworthy, executive director of information technology, said the ratio depends on the school. The two largest testing populations are at Rio Rancho and V. Sue Cleveland high schools. Rio Rancho will test about 1,900 students and Cleveland about 1,800.
Kenworthy said Cleveland has a 15 to 1 ratio and Rio Rancho High has an 11 to 1 ratio. The district expects to get some state funding to buy more devices, but there is still the issue of having enough space. Students will be tested on a rotating schedule, but at least three elementary schools are overcrowded and use almost all available space, making it difficult to set up an additional lab or testing space, Kenworthy said.
He said the district is still deciding what type of devices to purchase. He prefers desktop computers, but the limited space could make that difficult. Laptops are also under consideration, but the district would want them to be plugged in so there is no chance of a battery dying during the test. That would require extra outlets and power strips.
RRHS principal Richard VonAncken said his school might allow late arrival for students not testing, so devices used for class instruction can be used for testing. "It's not going to be easy," he said. "We are exploring all possibilities, but it's too early to know what we will do."
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