State pushes school technology upgrades
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.
State School Superintendent John White said Thursday the “uncompromising deadline” is to equip schools with appropriate technology, and he added, the state will help with the cost.
Some 49 different contracts will be made available to school systems that will be able to purchase technology together for better rates, White said.
“When you aggregate, sheer volume can drive down prices tremendously,” he said, adding that vendors will offer desktops as low as $418 each and laptops as low as $486.
“Every child, no matter their zip code, deserves technology-rich schools.”
The Louisiana Department of Education released the second Louisiana Believes: Louisiana’s Technology Footprint for St. Mary Parish this week. 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.
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 require an additional 179 computers to meet the minimum 7:1 students-to-computer requirement.
The majority of those needed computers are at Berwick Junior High, 40; Morgan City High, 37; and Morgan City Junior High, 35. Those schools have 460, 720 and 558 students, respectively.
The district has deployed 521 devices meeting the PARCC minimum requirements since the last footprint was released in July 2012. Additional devices will be deployed in the schools as part of the district’s standard upgrade procedures, St. Mary Superintendent Donald Aguillard said.
Eventually, White said, the state wants school systems to meet a 3:1 ratio to be considered digitally ready. Currently, only W.P. Foster, M.D. Shannon, M.E. Norman and Raintree elementary schools meet that ratio. The district would need to deploy a total of 1,232 for every school to be compliant, according to the report.
Also judged in the report is the school system’s network.
The St. Mary Parish School Board’s current computer network is adequate for the district’s current networking needs, Aguillard said. However, with the implementation of online testing, greater demands will be placed on the district’s wide-area network.
The report indicates the school system shares an average bandwidth of 10 Mbps (megabit per second) between all 23 schools but will have to get to 900 Mbps by 2014-15 and 9 Gbps (gigabit per second) by 2017-18. The WAN connection is at 73 Mbps and will need to be 500 Mbps and 5 Gbps, in the respective target years.
The technology department has approved the deployment of a new network that will increase the district bandwidth to the required gigabit specifications outlined by PARCC. The network will go online July 1. By leveraging E-rate funding, the district was able to provide the increased Internet bandwidth at a reduced cost of $51,000 per year.
Preparing for online assessments requires more than computers and network connectivity, the superintendent noted.
Additional facility resources will be needed at schools relating to classroom space, furniture, wiring and increasing current electrical power capacity.
A greater concern reported in the footprint relates to staff readiness in supporting the technology. The additional devices will strain the limited Helpdesk technicians available for hardware support. More dramatic is the increased need for instructional technology assistance for classroom teachers. Teachers will need both support and training to provide students with technology-rich classroom tasks and assessments, as well as troubleshooting technology and network issues. A restructuring of current personnel at both the central office and school level will be required to meet the demands of PARCC, Aguillard said.
“Overall, the new footprint provides evidence that the St. Mary Parish School Board is making progress with its efforts to meet the requirements for the PARCC assessments by 2014. St. Mary Parish is committed to meeting the PARCC requirements by the 2014-2015 school year,” Aguillard said.