Sunday, February 09, 2014

iPADS GOING HOME?: ‘That’s concerning to me,’ says Ratliff

by Vanessa Romo, LA School Report | LA School Report |

Posted on February 7, 2014   ::  Some LA Unified schools may be moving closer to allowing students to take district-bought iPads home again, and that has caught district officials by surprise.

The district put an end to the practice in September after students figured out how to bypass the device’s security filters.

iPads may be heading home again

iPads may be heading home again>>

But school board member Monica Ratliff, chair of the district’s technology committee, said in a meeting yesterday, she heard “rumors” school principals are considering letting the tablets off-campus as early as the end of the month.

“Is that true?” she asked. “That is concerning to me.”

“If I were a parent I know I wouldn’t want my kid to bring it home,” she added. “I wouldn’t want to be responsible for it.”

Myrna Brutti, who represents Associated Administrators of Los Angeles on the committee, expressed similar apprehension on behalf of principals.

“They are leery about letting them go home again, too.” she said. “They want some guidance.”

The district’s position on take-home technology is the same as that on textbooks: parents or guardians are ultimately responsible for “the willful destruction” of a device.

Gregory McNair, Chief Business and Compliance Counsel for the district, said that applies in all cases — even when parents fail or refuse to sign a consent form.

One of the problems with the policy, said Ratliff, “is that we haven’t defined willful.”

“If a student spills juice on an iPad, is that willful?” she asked.

The meeting was largely devoted to working out details for administering the computerized state standardized tests, called Smarter Balanced, in April.

Students in grades 3-8, and 11 are required to take the two-hour test.

A district-wide survey studying the technology readiness of schools revealed only 38 percent of them have adequate infrastructure and hardware to take the field test.

Schools are considered technology-ready if they can connect to the internet, download the Smarter Balanced browser and successfully access the first three questions.

Most schools reported a shortage of computers and unreliable wireless internet connectivity. That could prove to be a major problem on testing day as most students will taking the exam on iPads. And the Smarter Balanced consortium recommends administering the test via a hard-wire connection because it is more stable.

But, ultimately, the results of the survey are immaterial. All district schools will be receiving extra iPads for the test, including those that currently possess enough tablets, laptops or other devices.

That, too, appeared to be new information for Ratliff.

“What was the point of the survey then?” she asked Oscar Lafarga, a district administrator for student testing and assessment.

“At the time, we did not know we going to get additional devices,” Lafarga answered.

The survey was commissioned by the committee before the school board approved Superintendent John Deasy’s proposal to buy up to 67,500 iPads by March for use in testing.

Refusing to let it go, Ratliff pressed on. “So what was the plan going to be if the devices weren’t purchased?” she asked. “Was there any discussion of a Plan B?”

“I would have to say from our office’s perspective, we were hoping and counting that the schools’ needs would be met,” Lafarga replied. “Plan B was something that I didn’t even want to think about.”

Several other logistics remain unresolved: The district has not issued a “drop dead” date for the delivery of the iPads, school principals have yet to be trained on how to administer the test and teachers are concerned about accessing tech support on testing day.

Even the cost of the testing iPads, which are nearly $200 cheaper because they are not loaded with the Pearson curriculum, is unclear. The price tag on these models is just over $500, but the district has not clarified if that includes taxes, e-waste charges, and other hidden costs.

The Common Core Technology Project committee will hold its final meeting on March 5.

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