CIOs are in the middle of huge technological changes due to the adoption of the Common Core Assessment Standards. Two studies help highlight where we are and the challenges CIOs still need to overcome.
The new standards are designed to help prepare K-12 students for college by increasing STEM training and providing more technology education in the classroom. They also call for more computer-based assessment of students. But they've also become intertwined with political battles over teacher compensation, tenure, and government funding. As such, the struggle to create accurate computer assessment is at the forefront of the initiative, and CIOs need to pay attention.
To make the Common Core work, CIOs are being told to update computer-based assessments and set up electronic exchanges so student test scores and other data can be shared easily but securely. Many states are behind in computer-based assessment and are really starting from scratch. The technological effort would be enough, but reports from the Brookings Institution and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) point to some of the obstacles CIOs and administrators need to overcome.
The largest one is cost. According to the Brookings report, it is shockingly difficult to add up the real costs of adopting the Common Core, because contractor costs are not readily available, and state capabilities vary wildly. But the best estimate is that the total cost across the 46 states adopting the Core will be $669 million, and total costs of all assessment methods will be at least $1.7 billion.
The report predicts that small states will incur the largest costs, due to the lack of economy of scale. Where states like California and New York might see cost increases as small as $17 per student, Hawaii would see increases of more than $100. This represents an increase of only 0.25 percent in total K-12 spending, but with budgets already tight, it may be difficult for CIOs to find the funding.
One solution is joining with other states to share costs. The report says that a state with 100,000 students joining a consortium of 1 million students can cut its costs by 37 percent. Two major consortia are already in place for adopting standards, but costs aren't necessarily being shared across those consortia, due to political and legal reasons. CIOs whose hands aren't tied need to reach out to partners in other states to help keep costs down.
Another major issue is the varying levels of technology in different states. The ASCD report says the group compared the troubles of four states (Arkansas, Utah, North Carolina, and Colorado) at a recent conference. Only Arkansas felt it lacked the IT infrastructure to make the Common Core work. The state said it lacked the hardware and bandwidth to reach rural schools, many of which would be adopting computer-based assessment for the first time. CIOs with large rural populations will need to take special note of the hardware and networking capabilities of their farthest-flung schools.
One thing that worried all four states was the inability of teachers to integrate technology into their teaching. Closing the digital divide and making the 21st century college student (not to mention the successful post-graduate worker) is a major part of the point of the Common Core, so it is alarming that teachers felt unprepared.
CIOs need to facilitate teachers' use of technology by providing not only the technology itself, but also training. They need to select solutions that are easy to integrate into the classroom. Most importantly, they need to work with curriculum experts to make sure the curriculum and the technology work together. More than ever, the CIO has the potential to improve the quality of teaching in the classroom.
States are at different stages in their adoption of the Core and the technological steps they need to take to make it work. But wherever you are, you're probably still struggling with cost and helping get teachers up to date with the new technology. Reaching out to partners will help, but you're going to have to do some of this the hard way. Share your best ideas for overcoming these hurdles.