Parish schools meeting digital goals

MORGAN CITY, La. -- The St. Mary Parish school system is making strides toward being technology ready for the 2014-15 school year, when all state assessments will be moving online.

St. Mary Parish is one of 38 districts meeting the 7:1 student-to-computer requirement and one of 13 districts meeting the increased Internet bandwidth minimum technology standards required by the state before the 2014-15 school year.

The Louisiana Department of Education recently released the third Louisiana Believes: Louisiana’s Technology Footprint for St. Mary Parish. The footprint was created in conjunction with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers Consortium and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

These organizations were contracted by the Louisiana Department of Education to develop online assessments that will be given to students in grades three to 12 beginning in the 2014-15 school year. The footprint documents the district’s baseline technology readiness for this project and provides technology targets to meet readiness goals for devices, network infrastructure and Internet bandwidth.

The report warns that although St. Mary Parish has met minimum technology specifications and a 7:1 student-to-computer ratio, this ratio and device technical specification is neither sufficient for state End of Course testing in 2013-14 nor PARCC testing after that. The district needs to work toward upgrading and procuring devices that meet the recommended device specifications and that meet the 5:1 student-to-computer ratio for testing at all of its schools sites. To achieve the 5:1 ratio, St. Mary Parish will need to acquire an additional 457 recommended computers.

The school system will be asking for the release of $400,000 in technology reserve funds for the purchase of the computers.

Superintendent Donald Aguillard said that for St. Mary Parish’s footprint, the technology department reported only computers that would be available for testing groups of students at each school. Computers located in classrooms for teacher and student use were not included. The footprint report, released every six months, shows that St. Mary Parish schools required an additional 179 computers to meet the minimum 7:1 students-to-computer requirement earlier this year.

As part of its preparations for the increased technology demands of the online assessments, the St. Mary Parish School Board installed a new wide-area network and increased its Internet bandwidth during the summer months, Aguillard said. By leveraging E-rate funding, the district was able to provide this increased Internet bandwidth at a reduced cost, he added.

However, these steps are only a start, Aguillard said, adding “preparing for online assessments requires more than computers and network connectivity. Additional facility resources — including classroom space, furniture, wiring and electrical power capacity — will be needed at district schools.”

A greater concern reported in the footprint, Aguillard said, relates to staff readiness in technology support. Recent additions of desktop computers, laptops and tablets already are straining the limited Help Desk technicians who provide hardware support, he said.

Even more dramatic is the increased need for instructional technology assistance for classrooms teachers at each school site. Teachers will need support and training in order to provide students with technology-rich classroom tasks and assessments, as well as troubleshooting hardware, software and network issues, the superintendent said.

The Louisiana Technology Footprint provides a roadmap for the St. Mary Parish School Board and its efforts to meet the state requirements for online assessments by 2014.

The August 2013 Louisiana Technology Footprint for St. Mary Parish can be found at: www.louisianabelieves.com/data/files/footprint/082213/st_mary_Footprint_....

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