‘Smart’ Technology Offers Schools New Solutions to Save Time and Money in the Changing Landscape of Education
Today’s schools are faced with a dual challenge. On one hand, school officials are confronted by the harsh reality of trying to do more with budgets that are either shrinking or, at best, not keeping pace with the school’s needs. Reverberations from the recent economic decline have been felt at the national, state and local levels; revenue reductions have translated into budget cuts nationwide. Educators in all states have had to search for ways to stretch every dollar, and they have been forced to make difficult choices along the way. This is because even with some fiscal relief at the federal level, states remain responsible for most K-12 funding, which totals about $146 billion per year.
At the same time, schools are increasingly focused on improving the American education system, at the core of which is the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Enacted in January 2002, NCLB represents the most profound change to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act since it became law in 1965.
NCLB’s basic yet lofty goals include overall improvement in student achievement, improvement of all subsets of students by soci'economic groupings, and attainment of a 100% proficiency goal for all schools by the 2013-2014 academic year. The great challenge for schools is finding a way to meet increasing pressure for accountability with fewer financial resources at their disposal. Fortunately, advances in technology offer new and innovative solutions to help schools address these challenges.
An often overlooked yet powerful way to meet these objectives is to leverage new technology in order to manage document flow and related tasks, including those associated with the NCLB testing and accountability requirements. Smart document management can help schools in several ways, including providing simple cost savings on printed output, automating testing to save money and improve student achievement, automating attendance, streamlining information distribution, and centralizing forms management.
Reducing Printing and Copying Costs
In terms of sheer cost savings, smart document management can have a substantial impact by helping schools manage and streamline their printing and copying processes. The reason is simple: studies indicate that the printing and copying line item in most schools’ operating budgets is among one of the larger expenditures. Whether a school employs centralized copying facilities, distributed ink-jet printers in classrooms, or some other combination of printing and copying devices, modern printer-duplicators and multifunction printers (MFPs) - coupled with automated job-routing firmware and software - can reduce printing and copying costs by directing the job to the most cost-effective output device. The difference in cost can be dramatic. This is good news for schools because those budget monies can be applied to other critical areas or eliminated completely to close a budget shortfall.
Automating the Testing Process
Although plans for meeting student achievement goals under NCLB differ from state to state, assessing student progress is a key element in improving achievement levels. Automated testing technology assists schools by computerizing the process and delivering faster results for a fraction of the cost of other assessment methods. Assessment can be performed at several levels, including:
· Classroom Assessment. Delivering course content to students and monitoring their competency and comprehension of the material on a regular basis increases teaching effectiveness and student performance. Traditional testing methods require hours of grading time, which slows down the return of results and makes frequent testing impractical. Lack of frequent, real-time assessment data can put low-performing students in jeopardy; the extent of the problem might not surface until it’s too late.
· “Practice” Schoolwide Assessment. Most states have statewide proficiency tests for all core subjects, which are administered annually to specific grade levels, to assess and report on student proficiency in those subjects. The results are reported to the federal government and used to determine if the schools and districts are demonstrating adequate yearly progress among students.
To prepare for these examinations, practice tests are often administered one or more times before the official test. This helps to determine how well students will perform and identify areas where additional help is needed to bring each student up to an acceptable proficiency level. These tests are expensive because preprinted forms must be ordered from an outside testing service.
Once tests are completed, they must be scanned and tabulated. This can be done within the school or district by a specialized scanning device, which typically requires a dedicated person to manage the process. The scanning device is usually expensive and can only be used for scanning and grading tests. Alternatively, tests may be sent out for processing, but turnaround times may range from several days to a month or more. In either case, the cost and time involved in the process reduce its effectiveness.
RISO’s recently developed Automated Testing application is an example of how technology can be used to provide significant cost savings for either of these methodologies. In the Classroom Assessment model, teachers using the bubble-sheet testing method can administer class-by-class tests on a regular basis. Bubble sheets can be printed for less than half a cent per page, handed out to students, and then scanned back into an MFP for automatic grading and analytical reporting. Test results, along with a variety of analysis reports, are ready within minutes. The teacher can then review results with his or her class the next day while the material is still fresh in everyone’s minds. And low-performing students can get immediate help to improve their comprehension. Teachers also can use the reports to evaluate their curriculum and method of teaching. If the report shows that a large number of students got a particular answer wrong, they can reteach that portion or explain it differently.
Automated testing is also ideal for the “Practice” Schoolwide Assessment model. With so much riding on the outcome of the annual assessment results, schools need to do everything they can to ensure that as many students as possible achieve proficient ratings. A cycle of content delivery followed by assessment of student comprehension and remedial content review delivers the best chance for students to achieve satisfactory results on the annual assessment tests.
Leveraging a School’s Investment
Schools and districts must find ways to leverage each investment they make to maximize the return on every budget dollar. Products and services that meet more than one need are the clear choices when it comes to evaluating potential purchases.
As schools improve their technology infrastructures, there become more ways to leverage new technology in order to increase productivity and reduce waste. As an example, RISO MFPs can fill many printing and copying needs of a school. The MFPs also can be used to scan and grade tests automatically. The combination of printer-duplicators, MFPs and intelligent software facilitates information distribution across a district, including e-mailing, faxing, copying and hand-distributing - turning it into a one-touch process where a document is automatically faxed and e-mailed to preset distribution lists, as well as printed in preset quantities in different buildings. This saves hours of labor at a time when schools are short-staffed, especially in the administrative area that tends to get cut first in a budget crunch. It also helps information flow faster. In addition, forms can be stored on a server and printed out when and how each individual user needs them, thereby eliminating the need for ordering and storing large quantities of preprinted forms.
Schools are being forced to find new, creative ways to comply with NCLB’s sweeping reforms while saving money at a time of serious fiscal constraints. Breakthroughs in technology offer robust solutions that address current challenges, as well as provide new tools to streamline processes, reduce costs and enhance productivity, both in the classroom and in administrative offices. Schools, like many businesses today, are leveraging the power of technology to make their own operations - just like their students - smarter and more resourceful than ever.
This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.