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LAUSD offering Chromebooks as iPad option, but not a test run

Vanessa Romo | December 8, 2014

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Google ChromebookIf the LA Unified School Board tomorrow approves another $13 million in bond money for digital devices for Smarter Balanced exams next spring, school principals are likely to get a choice of Apple iPads or Google Chromebooks.

Chromebooks are about $100 cheaper, and some principals may prefer them. But there’s one problem: Even as Superintendent Ramon Cortines is urging school leaders to decide which device is better for their students, the district has done little to educate principals on the benefits of the Chromebook, let alone offer training.

“I’ve never even held a Chromebook in my hands,” Steve Martinez, principal at John Burroughs Middle School in Hancock Park told LA School Report.

Martinez is one of 27 principals who were promised iPads in Phase 2B of the one-to-one program, only to be told twice that they’d have to wait a little longer. He says he’s received ample professional development training on “all of the capabilities of the iPad” both in the classroom and for the Smarter Balanced test.

But he can’t say the same for the Chromebook, leaving principals to make a choice between a product they know and one they don’t.

“I need a demo. The district needs to have a demo day so we can see the differences between the products in action,” he said, adding that if that doesn’t happen, he plans to buy one or two Chromebooks using the school’s discretionary funds. “That can give us a little extra time with them before we have to make our decision. We only get once chance at this.”

For the district, the plan is to combine the bond money with another $9.2 million that went unspent last year, to purchase 20,000 wireless testing devices. These are not part of the district’s one-to-one program and would not contain any curriculum software, although, once the test is concluded the devices would remain at the school to be used for instructional purposes.

A survey issued by the Common Core Technology Project (CCTP) earlier this year found a majority of school principals across all grade levels report they prefer the more expensive iPad.

But teachers and principals will not have an opportunity to handle a Chromebook before the district places its final order for the devices this month, says Cynthia Lim, executive director of the department that oversees the deployment of devices for the Smarter Balanced test.

“In an ideal world it would be best to have everybody test out every device ever,” she said. “More information is better but we’re under time constraints.”

The district plans deliver the testing devices to students by February, giving them about two months to become familiar with them before the exam. In the meantime, Lim says the district is working on a training video on how to use the Chromebook for the Smarter Balanced test. She said she hopes it will be completed by late January, after the device orders have been made.

Board Member Monica Ratliff, who chairs the CCTP Committee, told LA School Report, “I think more principals and school communities might opt for Chromebooks if they had more experience with them.”

Ratliff studied a report by the Green Dot charter school system, which used a combination of desktop computers, iPads, and Chromebooks for the Smarter Balanced field test last year. She has since become a big proponent for the broader use of the Google device.

In the case of Green Dot, she says, the “pilot program involved actually taking the various devices to their various schools during testing, having students use the various devices, and then collecting feedback on the students’ experiences.” She suggested that LA Unified conduct a similar evaluation.

“It does not seem out of the realm of possibility to have students try a practice test on multiple devices and provide feedback on their experience so as to guide our decision making,” she said.

Another reason Chromebooks might be better: They are significantly less expensive than the iPads which also require the purchase of keyboards.

“I have spoken to the Superintendent regarding the fact that I think schools that choose the lower priced option should be rewarded in a way that allows them to capture some of the savings that decision will generate,” Ratliff said.

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