A $336,120 computer software upgrade approved by the Akron Board of Education on Monday night is just the latest item on a long list of expenditures that districts statewide are absorbing to prepare for online testing next year.
Ohio is among 45 states that have voluntarily enrolled in the national Common Core standards. What is certain about the new tests is that they will be more rigorous, compare student achievement from state to state and cost an unknown amount.
“This is an absolute overhaul to meet the Common Core standards that are being implemented nationally,” said Debra Foulk, Akron schools’ business affairs director.
It’s not uncommon for the district to update computers and software as the state continually alters tests, but Akron’s shopping list for this most recent change is large and still growing.
Foulk upgraded the district’s Internet bandwidth last month. That’s when Curriculum Director Ellen McWilliams informed the board that the buildings have “a lot of computers … but not nearly enough for all students.” This month, the board has already approved a $98,000 upgrade to Windows 7, the system recommended by test developers at the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). And McWilliams once again updated the board Monday night on the district’s progress toward Common Core preparedness.
“Are we going to get any help from the state for this online testing?” Board member Lisa Mansfield asked McWilliams.
McWilliams had put off applying for $1.5 million in federal grants until the governor released his two-year budget proposal and delivered the State of the State Address in February. She had hoped that Gov. John Kasich would verbally commit to funding the online testing component associated with Common Core.
“We don’t see anything forthcoming at this point,” McWilliams answered Mansfield.
While APS officials scramble to purchase items for next year’s online-only assessment, they’re not alone in their inability to price the Common Core standards or gauge readiness.
“I don’t think there is anyone in the department that is tracking that at this time,” said Jim Wright of the Ohio Department of Education’s Office of Curriculum and Assessment.
Wright explained that tools are available online that should help districts determine their level of preparedness, but no tool exists to determine how much additional infrastructure improvements, teacher training or hardware and software purchases would cost Ohio’s school districts.
“We don’t have that information yet,” Wright said in a telephone conference with reporters on March 5 as the district unveiled the new online tools located at http://education.ohio.gov/GD/Templates/Pages/ODE/ODEDetail.aspx?page=3&TopicRelationID=1696&ContentID=134869.
Superintendents have been told to “rearrange” money in their budgets, said David Varda, executive director of the Ohio Association of School Business Officials.
Varda also is not aware of statewide costs. He does see additional money for technology improvements in the first year of Kasich’s two-year budget proposal. But he does not know if that money is to be used for infrastructure, software or Internet connectivity, let alone teacher training and new evaluations.
A recent audit by Kansas officials estimates that the state’s costs to implement Common Core standards over the next two years could reach $30 million.
But the associated costs of implementing Common Core in Ohio, which boasts a student population nearly four times that of Kansas, are yet unknown.
Foulk said she would have a better idea of what the new testing standards have cost and will cost Akron by June. While the board OKs hundreds of thousands of dollars in computer purchases and software upgrades, Foulk is still determining where those additional computers would go and what infrastructure improvements — including wiring and installation — are needed.
She adds that these expenses are only the first round in what could be a costly two-year overhaul.
“We’re still waiting for the assessments themselves. This is just the initial technology recommendation from PARCC,” she said.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.