SBAC FUD and Facts

Originally published in 2013 before the first SBAC testing in California. Given the start of a new testing season I thought I’d repost….

A problem about getting ready for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) assessments is sometimes fear, uncertainty, and doubt, or FUD, as it is called in Technology circles. It is key for districts to explain to its stakeholders what the requirements actually are and how we are going to get there. SBAC and the California Department of Education (CDE) have made the requirements very clear, but these may sometimes not be clearly or simply communicated to staff, parents, and community members concerned about meeting the requirements of the testing.

For example, a key variable in getting ready for testing is the number of test takers. Many people do not know that this is often a subset of the entire school. In reality, at the start of the testing, 2014-2015, only grades 3-8 and 11th grade will be tested. So, in Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), for example, some schools in typical configurations have larger burdens for readiness. Elementary schools have grades 3-5 to test and high schools only have grade 11 to test, but junior high schools, grades 6-8, need to test the entire school.

Another variable that is important to examine is what I call testing opportunities. Currently SBAC requires students to have four “test starts.” These test starts are computer sessions of typically two hours for taking assessments in Math and English Language Arts, two each..The testing window set by SBAC is 12 weeks, but many schools are accustomed to doing STAR testing in a two week window. Most schools want to test in smaller windows to focus the students’ concentration level and the school’s environment, but obviously the technology requirements grow as you shorten the opportunities to use the equipment. For example, if you have one computer lab you can get much fewer test starts in a two week testing window compared to, say, an 8 week window. The same is true for using a lab in a day. Many administrators only like to test in the morning, but, again, not testing in the afternoon doubles the technology requirements.

The last variable to consider is testing environments. A district needs to decide what is a suitable environment for a standardized test. Typically this is either a computer lab or a classroom of mobile laptops using wireless networking.

Currently OUSD is considering the variables of environments, opportunities, and days to test. Once it decides on these, the district will have a very clear picture of the equipment needed to complete the testing successfully.

Internet and network bandwidth requirements are also defined by SBAC. They require up to 20 kilobits (kb) per test taker. So, a school with 100 simultaneous test takers would need 2 megabits (Mb) of bandwidth. This is within the the current bandwidth available at most schools. But some stakeholders remain worried about the bandwidth needed for testing without knowing the facts.

Finally, there is the human factor – the logistics of getting ready to test. SBAC requires a secure browser to be installed on Windows and Macintosh operating systems in order to take the test. In a large district with limited resources, installing the browser on a variety of machines typical in a district is an understandable worry. Interestingly, SBAC partnered with Google in building the secure browser into the Chrome operating system. This is a compelling choice for many districts because it eliminates the need for a browser installation while providing a standardized environment. OUSD is considering chromebooks.

With the facts straight, preparing for SBAC testing can be a simple formula. I’ll share that in my next post.