U-46 seeks to buy iPads, upgrade technology

  • Elgin Area School District U-46 officials are considering purchasing iPads, Chromebooks, and laptop and desktop computers with the goal of getting the district prepared for online PARCC testing next year.

      Elgin Area School District U-46 officials are considering purchasing iPads, Chromebooks, and laptop and desktop computers with the goal of getting the district prepared for online PARCC testing next year. Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 

Elgin Area School District U-46 officials are considering buying iPads for kindergarten through second grade classrooms, plus new Chromebooks and replacing aging desktops and laptops in other grades.

The school board Monday night discussed spending roughly $600,000 to buy 900 Apple iPad tablets -- two per K-2 classroom on average -- for all 40 elementary schools, and more than $3.1 million for 4,500 additional classroom laptops and Google Chromebooks, as well as replacing 1,811 outdated desktops with new desktops or laptops.

Officials say the upgrades are necessary for all students to be able to take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test online next year. This year, the state allowed U-46 to administer PARCC using a combination of online and paper/pencil tests, CEO Tony Sanders said.

"We've not had a full-fledged field test of PARCC across U-46 with the number of devices we currently have," Sanders said. "I do not believe we have the infrastructure or the ability right now with our current fleet to fully do PARCC testing (online) next year."

Administrators recommend buying the iPads as part of the district's Technology Master Plan, which will be presented to the school board at its next meeting, said Craig Williams, U-46 director of information services.

The cost includes purchasing a three-year warranty from Apple at $99 for each iPad device.

"We tend to keep things for quite a long time," Williams said.

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U-46 has been experimenting with iPads in early grades.

"We've found the tablets to be very good for pre-typing students," Williams said. "We have a good example at Bartlett (Elementary) in the physical education area where they are actually using the iPad to video students performing a specific skill and then give them immediate feedback about how they were performing in that skill."

Officials also have been reviewing how other districts, namely Northwest Suburban High School District 214, have implemented one-to-one technology.

District 214 aims to put an iPad in every student's hands at its six high schools.

"They have been going through this for about five years," Williams said.

School board member Jeanette Ward questioned how all students could take the PARCC test online with only two iPads per elementary classroom. "It seems that state-mandated testing is one of the reasons we are having to spend so much money for iPads," she added.

Williams said in the first year of implementation each elementary school would have roughly 40 iPads.

"You would need to pool all those devices, not just iPads but laptops as well, for testing," he said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Eventually, the goal is to have six tablet devices per elementary classroom, he added.

Officials considered buying the less expensive iPad Mini model, but determined the regular-sized iPad Air 2 with its 10-inch screen is the smallest device that can support the PARCC online test.

"We've recommended that in most cases a keyboard would be provided as an accessory to that," Williams said. "There's a concern that if we get last year's model, we may find that we'll lose a year or two of functionality. That's something that's open for discussion with the board."

Meanwhile, the district is working on upgrading its technology infrastructure to support additional devices. Officials have applied for roughly $5 million in federal E-Rate Program funding that would reimburse 80 percent of the cost of infrastructure upgrades.

"We also have an age and obsolescence issue in U-46 where we still have computers that are operating Windows XP," Sanders said. "That does leave us vulnerable in many ways as we have found out through experience."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Officials are proposing having two computer devices on average in third through sixth grade classrooms, and a set of 35 devices for every 12 regular-size classrooms at the secondary level. They will be a combination of Chromebooks, laptop and desktop computers running Windows 7 and 8 professional software.

Ultimately, officials want to move toward having portable devices in all classrooms districtwide, Williams said.

Tech: 900 iPads, 4,500 laptops on list of upgrades

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