The Wheeling Township Elementary District 21 will spend at least $665,160 on new electronic devices over three years, to prepare for the state's switch to digital standardized testing in 2015.
The Illinois State Board of Education will no longer use the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT) to test students, and instead will implement a new digitally administered assessment called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), starting in the 2015-2016 school year.
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District 21 is preparing for the switch by making sure its technology expenses for the 2013-2014 school year meet the requirements. However, the devices will be used throughout the school year and not just for testing, officials said.
District 21 Chief Information Officer Jason Klein presented his plan at a recent school board meeting.
To decide which devices were best, seventh graders at Holmes Middle School and the student device staff committee examined Mac OS laptops, Windows laptops, Windows convertible devices, iPads and Chromebooks made by Samsung, Lenovo and Acer.
After assessing each device's capabilities, cost, durability and maintenance, the committee and students recommended the Acer C7 Chromebook as the best option. District will lease 2,400 Acer Chromebooks, at a cost of $277.15 each. The expense will be spread out over three years, or about $240,000 a year.
The first devices will be used only by middle school students. All eighth grade students will get a Chromebook in late September or early October, and all sixth and seventh graders will get their own Chromebooks in the winter.
In the elementary schools, the district will lease one Chromebook for every three students in grades 3-5, starting in 2014-15.
The appeal of the Chromebooks is not only the durability and hardware of the devices, but also the use of Google Apps, Klein said.
Students will log in using their Google accounts, and from there the device will connect him or her with the apps specifically used by District 21, he said.
Although the Chromebooks meet the requirements that PARCC has established, the student device committee and Klein say they also will help students learn in new ways that encourage critical thinking and creativity, giving them new opportunities to research, write, read, create, collaborate and share.
"We strongly believe that these tools can help our students learn more deeply," said Klein.
Chromebooks and their apps can also be programmed to a language other than English, meaning students who have a different first language can study more difficult concepts in their native tongue, officials said.
It is undecided if the students will be allowed to take their Chromebooks home and off school grounds.
PARCC, meanwhile, issues technology requirements for school districts to follow including proper bandwidth, operating system, connectivity and device screen size. A paper and pencil version of the PARCC test will be available, but it will be more expensive for both school districts and the state, said Matt Vanover, a spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Education.
The state does not give school districts money to make the technological upgrades they need for the PARCC test, but Vanover said the Illinois State Board of Education is investigating if funding for technology might become available.
PARCC is also still in the stages of finalizing implementation.
"PARCC is trying to communicate every step of the way, there's just a lot of questions we in the field have that haven't been answered," said Klein, who commends PARCC for being active communicators.
The state of Illinois adopted the Common Core in 2010, and this past school year the ISAT incorporated 20 percent of Common Core standards.
Next school year, the ISAT assessment will include 100 percent of the Common Core guidelines.
District 21 is also reworking its curriculum to prepare for the upcoming testing changes. They are looking at Common Core standards and taking what they think is important, to create their own "power standard" for teachers to use.
"The testing is secondary for us; teaching affects kids," said Klein, "We use our own professional judgment and the needs of our kids to make sure we're providing rigorous, high quality instruction."