Pascagoula schools preparing early for costly Common Core State Standards
PASCAGOULA, Jan 20, 2013 (The Sun Herald - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Many school district leaders across the U.S. are bracing themselves as they prepare for new federal requirements for online state testing, and Pascagoula is attempting to get ahead of the game.
All U.S. students in second through 12th grades, under the newly adopted Common Core State Standards, will take the same standardized tests online rather than on paper at school. The deadline for schools to implement this requirement is the 2014-15 school year.
Many school districts, however, may find themselves struggling with a lack in technology and hardware, outdated electrical infrastructure, a shortage of bandwidth and a need for more staff to manage it all.
"This is going to be a problem in Mississippi if it's not addressed now in the budget," Pascagoula School District Superintendent Wayne Rodolfich said.
National standards will require 100 megabytes of bandwidth per 1,000 students. The Pascagoula district has 200MB total. With 7,000 students in the district, Rodolfich said the district plans to increase its bandwidth to 700MB by the 2014-15 school year to meet the standard.
Pascagoula has the third-highest bandwidth capacity in Mississippi, after the DeSoto County School District with 350MB and Jackson Public School District with 250MB. However, DeSoto has 35,000 students, and Jackson district has 30,000, so by comparison, Pascagoula is in "very good shape," Rodolfich said.
"The issue is that the average age of a school building in the PSD is 46 years old," he said. "The electrical infrastructure in many of these buildings lack the capacity to support new technologies."
Rodolfich said the district is on an "aggressive schedule phasing in massive renovations" to expand its technological support for updated and additional hardware.
School districts are normally able to buy more bandwidth through E-rate, a program set up in 1977 to provide discounts in telecommunications service to schools and libraries, via federal money collected from the universal service fee on phone bills.
Rodolfich said, however, when districts across the U.S. start reaching into the pot at the same time in the next year to meet national standards, that money could disappear quickly.
Bandwidth costs $75 per megabyte, Pascagoula district technology director Doug Belk said.
PSD E-rate coordinator Erin Ayala said E-rate won't pay for electrical infrastructure improvements.
"Some districts are so small, they are working 10 steps behind," Belk said.
As far as what the state Legislature is doing about it, Sen. Brice Wiggins, a member of the Senate Education Committee, said the situation has recently been brought to the committee's attention, has been "confirmed as an issue in terms of demand," and committee members are "looking to address it."
Wiggins said the problem is not exclusive to Mississippi, and cost is going to be the biggest issue.
"We realize it's our job to increase (bandwidth) capacity," he said. "The problem is going to lie in a lot of rural areas."
Wiggins said he commends Rodolfich for making the effort to start preparing so far ahead.
Rodolfich said there are still "a lot of unknowns" in how specifics of the Common Core standards are going to be implemented, such as whether it will be possible to do the online testing in phases.
Belk said he loves the Common Core standards, but many of the logistics that "look good on paper" come with risks.
Forty-five states, the District of Columbia, four territories and the Department of Defense Education Activity have adopted the Common Core State Standards, which were created to "provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them," according to the standards website.
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