- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 15, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Nearly all of Louisiana’s public school districts have the capability to administer online tests, while about two-thirds reach the minimum student-to-computer ratio sought by the state, Superintendent of Education John White said Wednesday.

White outlined to the House and Senate education committees how Louisiana’s school systems were faring in upgrading to the computer networks needed for testing tied to the new Common Core educational standards.

Of Louisiana’s 69 school districts, 58 have the Internet capacity to run online tests, according to the education department data. White said 47 districts have the desired ratio of seven students to every one computer, up from only two school systems two years ago.

The superintendent touted the improvements, saying districts have made significant strides in recent years. He estimated it would take from $6 million to $20 million to get all districts upgraded to a basic standard of technology.

That doesn’t include ongoing maintenance costs and network fees, however.

Concerns about school technology have gained heightened attention with the state’s ongoing shift to the Common Core standards, a tougher set of grade-level benchmarks adopted by most states for what students should learn in English, reading and math.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education agreed in 2010 to use the standards in Louisiana, and they are being phased into public school classrooms and testing.

School boards and superintendents have said they need more funding to help with upgrading technology to coordinate with the use of the toughened teaching standards and the accompanying computerized tests.

In response, BESE agreed to delay the new tests for high schools, to let students in third and fourth grades take the tests on paper for a few years and to give schools one-year waivers on computerized testing if they don’t have the technology.

But by 2015-16, all students in third through eighth grades should be taking online tests that align with Common Core.

“The numbers that I shared today give me great encouragement that the progress we’ve made is evidence that our state will be ready by that time,” White said after the committee hearing.

School districts have known since 2010 that they needed to improve their technology to match the online testing plans, White said.

No state dollars have been identified to help upgrade the remaining systems. BESE is expected to recommend an increase in the state’s annual funding for schools and, if approved by lawmakers, districts could use those dollars to defray technology costs.

Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, said school systems with older buildings will have higher costs to improve their technology, because they may have to rewire their schools. Other lawmakers said rural districts have trouble finding ways to access high-speed online networks.

Only St. James and Iberville parish school systems have reached a one-to-one ratio of students to computers, and Ascension Parish is nearly there, White said.

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