The Sioux Falls school district just made a slam-dunk tech decision. They will outfit 17,500 grade 3-12 students with Google Chromebooks. These bare-bones laptops run nothing but 'Net. Communicate with webmail, create and collaborate on documents on Google Docs or another cloud app... what else do students need? Sioux Falls will spend $4.4 million to acquire the machines, which comes out to a right-on-retail $251 per machine. That's a fifth of what other schools have historically spent per Gateway machine or swivel-top Tablet HP. Those huge savings are more than enough to cover the remaining costs of outfitting the K-2 kids with iPads... and we haven't included the savings that the district will enjoy from dropping the costly license contracts for all the software that it cannot and need not install on the Chromebooks.
Enter the state Department of Education to throw a monkey wrench in this smart tech move. Next year, in the final year of the Dakota STEP test, DoE is moving the test online. DoE is now telling Sioux Falls that it can't use its Chromebooks and iPads for the Dakota STEP. Those devices will be fine for the new online tests we get on 2015, but the Pearson corporation that makes our current statewide standardized test says it just can't make the Dakota STEP work on Sioux Falls's chosen technology:
[Education Secretary Melody] Schopp said there are doubts about the ability to lock down the testing window on Chromebooks so that students could not access other applications. And the iPad has a smaller screen than a standard desktop or laptop computer, so the questions might not be displayed in the same way.
Schopp said there is no chance Pearson will address those concerns in time for the 2014 tests, and the Department of Education hasn’t yet decided what to do about it [Josh Verges, "Students Can't Use New Computers for 2014 Tests," that Sioux Falls paper, 2013.04.01].
Horsehockey. Pearson, you have 12 months, You have our money and lots of experts. You can figure this out. The display issues are trivial and fixable with probably four lines of CSS code. The security issues are also malarkey: a little configuring on the testing end, a little filter/firewall action on the school end, and your concerns that kids will cheat on this meaningless (for them) test disappear. The notion that the state Department of Education and an education testing mega-corporation can't solve a simple tech problem that's been addressed by numerous other organizations suggests obstinance or incompetence in both offices.
Secretary Schopp at least has the good sense to say that testing is secondary to district efforts to improve instructional tools. And since tools are secondary to actual instruction, that makes testing tertiary at best, right?