New York requests bids to create computer-based tests

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Students in New York will have to wait a bit longer before they can put their pencils away and start taking English and math state tests on computers.

State education officials put out a bid for proposals last week to create a customized computer-based testing system, declining to adopt the Common Core-aligned online exams that several other states are deploying this year through the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.

The bid seeks a five-year contract starting in July from a vendor that would create the electronic tests for grades 3-8 in 2017 – but it will be left up to individual schools whether they want to switch from a print-based system to the computerized system, according to the request for proposal.

“It will be at the discretion of each school and revisable annually, as to whether they will administer by paper or computer or both,” the document states.

Vendors have to make sure the test administration and delivery platforms are compatible with the existing computers and infrastructure used in schools around the state.

But, as many schools are struggling with updating their technology infrastructures, state officials are also concerned about having enough money in the budget for the rollout of the new tests.

“Beginning in 2016-17 computer-based tests will also be available, so long as the Department has sufficient funds to support the CBT service in the RFP,” according to the document. “If, based on the cost of the bids, we do not have sufficient funds, we would have to proceed only with paper and pencil versions of the test.”

Critics said state officials, who had been planning in 2010 to convert to the electronic tests, will hinder innovation in schools that should be given the resources to make the switch.

“It’s unfortunate that schools with administrators, teachers, families and students who welcome technology will be hindered by the past actions of the usual anti-anything-that’s-not-the-failing status quo within our schools,” said Sheila Kaplan of Education New York and Information Policy Watch.

The PARCC tests have remained controversial because opponents say the computerized system is too confusing, and student performance will factor into some teachers’ evaluations. Parents are also upset that schools focus too heavily on testing throughout the year. Many districts across the country have opted out of using the tests.

In New Jersey, several districts started taking the math and English exams on Friday instead of the usual timeline in March because not every school is equipped with the proper technology for the window next month, according to NJ.com.

“In order to share the devices that we have, we are going to need every week in March, just at the middle school,” Linda Madison, superintendent of Middlesex High School, told the website. “So we thought with this option we could get the high school out of the way.”

Last year, 95 New York City schools took trial versions of the PARCC tests, according to Chalkbeat New York. A city education department spokesman told the website that the new computer-based tests “will require a transition period of several years.”

The state currently has a $32 million contract with testing company Pearson, but that may change with the new bid. A spokesman for the testing conglomerate told EdScoop that they are reviewing the RFP, which is requesting responses by April 2.

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