Classrooms: Southampton preps for computer-based MCAS this spring; needs $80k for computers

@kate_ashworth
Published: 1/17/2017 11:38:58 PM

SOUTHAMPTON — An order from the state to have students start taking a new standardized test on computers this spring has prompted Southampton school administrators to make a pitch to Town Meeting for much-needed technology funding.

The William E. Norris School is seeking $80,000 for laptop computers needed for Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System testing.

But school officials say that upgrading the school’s technology has benefits beyond test-taking.

Principal Aliza Pluta said the laptops can also open doors for interactive learning experiences through virtual programs and electronic textbooks.

“When we have computers for students in the classroom, they have a much broader academic experience,” Pluta said.

But it’s the testing that is driving the funding request.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced last June a transition to statewide computer-based testing to coincide with roll out of its revamped MCAS test.

For this year, at least, schools will have to administer the computer-based version of the exam to students in the fourth and eighth grades.

Additional grades will be required to switch to the online test in subsequent years, so that all students in Grades 3 through 8 are taking it on a computer by 2019.

“Computer-based testing will allow us to offer richer, more engaging content and a wider range of accessibility features,” state officials said in announcing the changes. “It also reflects the reality that students are increasingly using technology in and out of the classroom to learn and produce written work.”

But some schools, like the Norris School, which teaches kindergarten through sixth grade, are short on resources.

On Jan. 24, the town of Southampton will vote on whether to transfer the $80,000 to the school for laptop computers which are planned to be used for testing and other educational uses in the classroom. The total cost of equipping students with laptops will be $160,000 over two years.

The $80,000 would pay for 80 laptops as well as equipment such as carts to transport the computers to different classrooms.

“Our technology goal is to develop a sustainable technology budget in support of curricular needs, including the increasing use of digital materials, the Massachusetts’ student standards for Digital Literacy and Computer Science and mandated MCAS 2.0 online state testing,” Superintendent Craig Jurgensen said. 

Last year, the town voted to transfer $22,000 to purchase laptops to be used by Norris School teachers. The teachers’ old laptops are now used by students, according to Pluta. 

However, about 13 laptops currently are available for students and Pluta says they are outdated.

“Technology is always changing,” Pluta said.

Since fourth-graders are required to take the computer-based test this spring, Pluta said the Norris School will borrow 27 laptops from Hampshire Regional High School to ensure all 81 fourth-graders will take the computer-based test.

While paper versions of the test will always be available, the state board said they “strongly encourage” schools to implement the computer-based version this year to as many grades as possible.

Kim Florek, technology director at Hampshire Regional, said last year the school received about $50,000 from the Digital Connections Partnership Schools Grant which allowed the school to upgrade its wireless infustructure. 

Without the upgrade, Florek said the school would not be able to conduct online testing.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.


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