Bexley News

School technology

Staff computing needs of new test series

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LORRIE CECIL/THISWEEKNEWS
Tracy Fowler, manager of technology infrastructure for Bexley City Schools, works on the computer cables in the Bexley High School library Friday, July 18.
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Even though the halls of Bexley's city schools are relatively quiet over the summer, the district's tech team is busy preparing for the upcoming year.

There's new equipment to be installed, hardware to be upgraded and systems to be implemented and tested.

Technology Director Paul Ross, who recently returned from the International Society for Technology in Education Conference in Atlanta, leads a team of five who have kept things running for the past six years despite an increased workload.

"Technology is integrated into every facet of education, from HVAC controllers and security systems through classroom technologies, assessment systems and digital textbooks," Ross told school board members recently.

His team is there to support it all.

This summer, tech staffers are upgrading cabling at Maryland and Montrose elementary schools and cleaning up data closets, as well as migrating some 4.7 million emails to Outlook Online. New learning management systems are being implemented, such as Office 365 and Canvas. And the team is installing new hardware, such as digital cameras in classrooms, thanks to a grant from the Bexley Education Foundation.

Ross boasts of nearly 100 percent network connectivity, with only seven hours of downtime this past year.

But he admitted that one of his deepest concerns is the launch of the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests which will replace the Ohio Achievement Assessments this year.

While the new online assessments -- which reflect the state's new Core Curriculum -- have been piloted in other districts selected by the state, Bexley was not one of them. Regardless, Ross said his team has been working hard to prepare.

"It's a web of logistics which are all interconnected and need to work together to be a success," he said. "It requires a lot of planning, coordination and resources."

Ross said he is confident Bexley will have enough bandwidth to carry out the tests, which will occur twice each year. But providing a computer for each students to use in taking the test poses a challenge.

Because the testing window for the entire district is just 20 days, Ross said teachers will have to share computers, which will monopolize existing devices during the testing period and take away from regular instruction time, he said.

His staff also will be fully devoted to PARCC during the testing period, offering immediate tech support. Ross said Bexley is fortunate to have online testing experience already, particularly through the ACT college and career assessment, but on a smaller scale.

He recalls instances when his department has experienced technical difficulties with the ACT, which prevented students from actually taking the test. Luckily, issues have been resolved quickly, he said, something that may not be so easy with PARCC.

"It's a magnification," he said.

He agrees the tenets of the online testing are good, in that they give educators timely feedback. But even if a district has done its job in preparing for the online testing environment, Ross is concerned that the provider of PARCC, Pearson, will experience problems on its end.

Fourteen states, plus the District of Columbia, will be administering the tests this coming year to some 15 million students.

Nearly 16,000 students across the United States, including Ohio, piloted the test this past spring.

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