September 07, 2012

K-12 Education: Tests Are Out, Assessments Are In. Is Your Network Ready?

One of the first things new teachers discover in the classroom is that individual students each learn and process information differently. Some students do best with visual lessons; others acquire knowledge easily from written summaries; some through spoken lessons; and others learn easiest through art or musical presentations. The optimal style of learning for a given classroom of students can run a wide gamut. One theory relates this to the multiple types of intelligence as proposed by Howard Gardner in 1983. The challenge this poses to educators is how to insure that all students achieve the same level of skills and knowledge regardless of their individual style of learning.

Teachers have similarly found that students learn at different rates and in different doses. The old concept of teaching non-stop for half or even all of a semester followed by a mid-term or final exam is being replaced with continuous assessment of the student’s understanding throughout the term. This insures that all students fully understand the subject when the class concludes.

In his book, Disrupting Class, Clayton Christensen contrasted the styles of training autoworkers in Japan versus America. In the US, autoworkers are often given a quick complete run-through on how to assemble many parts onto the moving auto frame, so that the workers can be deployed to the assembly line as soon as possible. In Japan, workers are taught to master one step at a time, adding operations as they gained proficiency. This difference in styles is analogous to moving from Quality Control (testing after the fact) to Quality Assurance (insuring the process works).

Concurrent with the move to continuous student assessment is the drive to insure that all graduating high school students possess the necessary skills and knowledge for post-high school success. The US has struggled with ways to achieve this, initially falling back to the old concept of after-the-fact testing. Recently, the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) have sponsored the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The aim is to hold all states accountable for ensuring their students “have the skills and knowledge needed for success by providing clear goals for student learning”. Groups like the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a consortium of 23 states, are working toward assessment systems that mark students’ progress toward Common Core State Standards from 3rd grade up.

A new science of digital assessment has emerged with the goal of designing digital learning analytical tools that not only test knowledge and skills, but also learning behaviors and challenges. The sorts of assessments called for by the initiatives and partnerships described above would not be possible or even conceivable without the rapid move to digital and online classroom technology. Digital assessment software must be dynamic and interactive. Assessments may be pre-loaded with 30,000 multimedia questions or more; the sequence of questions determined by how questions get answered  as the student progresses through the assessment.

The move to online interactive assessment can place an especially heavy demand on the school network infrastructure. The network must be capable of delivering digital content rapidly and securely. The multimedia content, including images and video, requires high bandwidth and low latency. In the course of the school year, there will be times when an entire class, or even the entire school, must be assessed at the same time, so the network must provide extremely high capacity and the ultimate in reliability. Imagine the disaster if the school network were to hiccup or fail during a critical school-wide assessment, like one did a while back in Virginia.

The OneFabric network by Enterasys has all of the features needed for on-line assessment. It provides the highest level of reliability and performance to deliver rich digital content including streaming and interactive high definition video. With Enterasys Mobile IAM, students can use either district-owned devices or their own computers or tablets to securely take on-line assessments. The network is simple to manage, so it reduces the load on constrained district IT staffs.

A recent Enterasys survey of K-12 school districts in the US found that 77.5% of schools have already implemented some level of on-line student assessment, and almost 50% plan to move exclusively to on-line assessment. In fact, only 6% of schools have no plans for on-line assessment. Yet only 43% of schools are confident that their network infrastructure can fully handle the demands of on-line assessment. We’d be happy to help you make sure your network infrastructure is up to the task.

About The Contributor:
Bob NilssonDirector of Vertical Solutions Marketing

Bob Nilsson is the director of vertical solutions marketing at Extreme Networks. In this role, Mr. Nilsson leads the Extreme Networks strategy and programs for vertical markets including Healthcare, Higher Education, K-12 Education, Federal Government, and Hospitality. He has over 30 years of experience in marketing IT systems to Global 1000 companies worldwide. Before joining Extreme Networks Bob was VP Marketing at Clear Methods. Prior to that Bob held senior marketing positions at Digital Equipment and HP. Bob holds an SB degree in EE from MIT and MBA from Columbia Business School.

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