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JUST IN: Cortines requests delay in counting computer test results

Vanessa Romo | December 15, 2014

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LAUSD Superintendent Ray Cortines

LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines

In a sudden reversal for LA Unified, Superintendent Ramon Cortines is asking the state to ignore the district’s Smarter Balanced testing results as a measure of academic growth or improvement next year.

In a letter to the State Schools Chief, Tom Torlakson on Friday, Cortines wrote, “I have determined that it would be untimely to have the test results used for high stakes accountability purposes in spring 2015.”

He explained: “While LAUSD students in grades 3-8 and 11 participated in the Field Test last spring, we do not feel that our students have had adequate time practicing on the testing devices.”

“I would like to ask that any data or scores derived from [testing] not have a negative impact on state and/or federal funds that are allocated for the students in LAUSD,” he added.

The letter did not address what measure the district would or could use in the absence of computerized test results for purposes of tracking student and school levels of academic achievement and for qualifying for federal support dollars.

Torlakson, who was recently elected for a second term, did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Cortines has repeatedly expressed concern over the ticking clock on the time students will have to become familiar with wireless devices before taking the math and English exam, aimed at testing the state’s new Common Core standards, in April.

“I do not believe that the assessments this spring will be an accurate demonstration of what students have learned nor what our teachers have taught this school year…We do not feel that students and schools should be penalized for the transition to new standards, new assessments, and new technology,” he wrote to Torlakson.

But even as the school board agreed to buy another 21,000 devices that it says will be in students’ hands by January — a combination of iPads and Chromebooks — the district has botched the delivery of the tablets it already owns.

Tens of thousands of iPads which were intended for one-to-one use, in addition to 40,000 iPads that were purchased specifically for testing, are four months delayed in reaching their destination. And Bernadette Lucas, director of the district’s Common Core Technology Project, said it will take another month before they hit the classrooms.

Only about 44,000 of the 90,000 devices are back in use, the rest remain in storage.

Lucas told LA School Report the delay for middle schools and high schools in getting them their one-to-one devices was caused by the “take-home issue.”

“Many of our schools made it clear to us that having the devices on campuses before they could take them home would present logistical challenges that would affect instructional time,” she said.

The question of allowing students to take home the expensive tablets has been hotly debated. Many parents are afraid to take on the responsibility of replacing the $700 tablets should they be damaged or lost while off campus. Lucas said the district needed time to sort it out.

“So while, the secondary principals were very clear that they consider the instructional devices very important to their instructional programs as they planned around it, they needed the take home piece to have that for the operational aspect of the roll out,” she said.

With regard to getting testing devices back in classrooms, Lucas explained the hold-up  was due “all of the updating we had to do.”

Board member Monica Ratliff, whose committee has analyzed various aspects of the district’s technology program, told LA School Report she supports Cortines’ request of Torlakson, not to count this year’s results, which were designed to serve as a baseline for judging academic growth the following year.

“The Board of Education and educators across LAUSD should join Superintendent Cortines in advocating for the delay of [Smarter Balanced] results for high stakes accountability purposes,” she said.

It is possible for districts to give a pencil and paper version of the test, but Cortines’s letter makes no mention whether the district is considering that option. District officials are divided on whether it’s too late to substitute the computerized version of the test.

At this time, the only paper and pencil versions requested were for students requiring braille. All other students will be taking the online administration.

LA Unified conducted a dry-run of the tests last spring, but the results were not made public. However, many schools reported technical difficulties; students were unable to log onto the testing site, connections to the internet were spotty, and many students were booted out of the system, unable to complete the test.

But, Cynthia Lim, executive director of the department that oversees the deployment of devices for the Smarter Balanced test and the infrastructure required to administer it, said last month that the district has learned “many useful lessons” from last year’s experience and it will be prepared come spring.

Cortines’ request would appear to betray Lim’s confidence.

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