Vaca school board decides to go mobile for test-related tech

By From page A4 | January 10, 2014

VACAVILLE — After an extensive debate about what technology makes the best investment, the Vacaville School Board approved a pair of agreements to allow infrastructure work to start at four district schools to prepare them for the new Smarter Balance testing related to the new Common Core State Standards.

With an April 7 deadline for the first phase of any technology upgrades, district information technology staff had initially planned for new, full-scale computer labs at Orchard, Markham and Browns Valley elementary schools and Willis Jepson Middle School.

But questions from board members about what type of technology – wired, station-based computer labs or laptops/mobile devices and wireless networks – would be a better investment for the $500,000 allotted for the project.

The discussion, which lasted the better part of 90 minutes, touched on everything from screen size to whether the district’s IT staff could even implement a different strategy at such a late stage.

Technology director Ken Johnson made the case for traditional computer labs as reliable systems on which he and his staff could count on to make the pilot testing in the spring successful.

Audience member David Robertson addressed the board, advocating for the use of mobile devices and wireless networks as the way of the future.

Trustee David McCallum agreed with Robertson.

“I don’t see in this a lot of adaptability,” he said. “I have some concerns.”

With the deadline just months away and grades three-eight and 11 set to take the pilot test in the spring, options are limited, Johnson cautioned.

Board president Sherie Mahlberg also questioned the useful lifespan of new computer labs.

“This feels like a $500,000 Band-Aid,” she said. “It feels more reactive than proactive.”

Facilities director Leigh Coop told the board that something does need to get done to be able to do the testing.

“We could do a wireless pilot at those four sites,” she suggested.

Santiago Mejia, student representative from Buckingham Charter, which centers much of its curriculum around technology, suggested using rolling computer carts with 30 or so laptops on each that can be taken to the individual classrooms, an idea that the board members liked.

Johnson and Coop both noted that the wireless solution combined with the computer-on-wheels carts would be less expensive than the labs.

Ultimately, the board agreed to the facilities agreements to allow whatever infrastructure improvements need to be done to set up the four schools for wireless access and to conduct the pilot testing using computer carts and battery-powered laptops.

While the spring testing is a pilot program, the real testing for all grades begins in spring 2015.

Reach Mike Corpos at 427-6979 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mcorposdr.


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