(Ventura County Star (CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) May 07--The bandwidth needs of Ventura County schools have jumped significantly in the past decade and are about to double.
About nine years ago, the Ventura County Office of Education -- the primary Internet service provider for local school districts -- had a network speed of 45 megabits per second. Now the county connection is at 10 gigabits, with the potential to double this summer.
"What we're hearing from the general field out there is bandwidth demand grows by 60 percent a year," said Steve Carr, chief technology officer for the Office of Education. "The last couple of years have been really exponential."
The preparation for Common Core standards, which will be implemented this fall after a computerized test being administered this month, is a major driver for this technology push. With new academic standards that stress keyboarding and Internet skills, school districts are requesting more and more bandwidth.
In the Oxnard School District, 11,000 iPads have been deployed so far, with most students using them for the standardized test. By the fall semester, 18,000 tablets will be deployed. The K-8 district's thirst for bandwidth is so great that the county couldn't meet it, so it is also purchasing additional bandwidth from Time Warner.
"We want to ensure there's sufficient bandwidth to do this exam," said Oxnard Superintendent Cesar Morales.
This year's "test of the test," as educators are calling it, replaces the STAR testing that students used to take every spring. The biggest difference is that this is a computerized test and not solely multiple-choice.
For the field test, which is being administered through May 16, the exam is as much an assessment of student knowledge as it is of school districts' network capacity.
This year, the tests are all being taken on desktop, laptop or tablet computers. Next year, when the scores will be recorded, schools have the option to administer the test on paper.
In the months leading up to the exam, one of the biggest concerns was bandwidth. A connection of 20 kilobits per second are needed for each student taking the test. (A megabit is equal to 1,000 kilobits, while a gigabit is equal to 1,000 megabits.)
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With a paper test, a large district like Simi Valley Unified or Ventura Unified could test all students at one time. Due to bandwidth, this isn't possible for the computerized test.
About four weeks into the county's testing period, there hasn't been any major technology issues, said Carr. "Nothing like Healthcare.gov," he said.
The biggest challenge has been procedural, such as logging on and getting students to enter the right ID number.
In the Fillmore Unified School District, Superintendent Alan Nishino said it has been difficult for some students who don't have access to computers at home, but the infrastructure is going smoothly.
"We were worried if we would have enough bandwidth, but there's been no big hiccup," Nishino said.
In Ventura Unified, where 1,000 students were taking the test at the same time, just half of the district's 300-megabit connection was utilized, and that includes Internet use not related to the test.
One reason districts have not run into major technology issues is because teachers and students have been directed to not stream videos or do other things online that would drain bandwidth during the testing window. It's not unlike utility agencies that ask customers to conserve during a heat wave.
According to data from the Office of Education, on a day in April after most districts returned from spring break, there was more Facebook and YouTube use than testing.
But just because things are running smoothly for the field test does not guarantee next year will be problem-free.
When the Common Core-aligned test is officially administered next spring, the exam will have twice the number of questions, and the testing window for each district will be doubled to 12 weeks.
"We don't want to get in a place of complacency," Carr said.
Next year's test, with more video and audio features, will likely require more bandwidth, Carr said.
This is why the Office of Education is doubling its Internet connection to 20 gigabits. In addition to microwave connections set up on several mountain peaks, the county office will contract with other service providers to add fiber connections, too.
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