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Technology Standards | News

SBAC, PARCC Issue Guidance on Minimum Hardware Specs for Education

The two major consortia that are developing assessments around Common Core State Standards today issued guidelines for new technology purchases in K-12.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) issues their own individual guidelines this morning, though there are several areas of overlap between the two.

The guidelines are designed to "inform current and future [technology] purchasing decisions" in K-12 and are intended to ensure that schools are equipped to deliver the next generation of assessments coming in the 2014-2015 school year.

The specifications themselves are about as bare minimum as new computers or tablets get, through the requirements do exclude tablet designs smaller than 9.5 inches. That leaves out tablets built around Intel's brand new StudyBook reference design, which, while meeting or exceeding most of the other requirements in the specifications, has a screen size of just 7 inches and a screen resolution of 1,024 x 600. The specs also exclude all current smart phone designs (which currently max out at a screen size of 5.3 inches), though it isn't clear whether external display support would allow for the devices. Thin clients that meet the minimum hardware specs are allowed under the current guidance.

"The fact that both consortia are agreeing on the guidance for new technology purchases for hardware, operating systems, networking and device types continues in the positive spirit of cooperation between the technology groups of the two consortia that started with their collaboration on the Technology Readiness Tool," said Geoff Fletcher, deputy executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA). SETDA has been working with both groups on the issue of technology and assessment-readiness. "Now that the guidance is in place, school districts can take action confident that the devices they purchase for instruction also can be used for the new assessments slated to be launched online in the 2014-2015 school year."

Specifications common to the two groups' individual guidelines include:

  • Device Types: Desktops, laptops, netbooks, thin clients, tablets
  • Processor: 1 GHz or faster
  • Minimum RAM: 1 GB
  • Display: 9.5 inches or greater at a resolution of 1,024 x 768 or greater
  • Operating System: Mac OS X 10.7, Windows 7, Linux (Ubuntu 11.10 or Fedora 16), Chrome (no version specified), iOS (no version specified), Android 4.0
  • Connectivity: Wired or wireless, with Internet access

The specifications cover both student-owned and school-supplied equipment. PARCC said BYOD is a local policy decision and that the group will not issue procedures for student-owned devices.

"Technology is key to PARCC states' ability to develop and administer K-12, computer-based assessments that will deliver useful information quickly to determine whether students are on a pathway to college and career readiness," said Wes Bruce, chair of the PARCC Technology Operational Working Group and chief assessment officer for the state of Indiana, in a prepared statement. "The specifications released today will help all states match their technology purchases with their needs for instructional use as well as support the types of innovative tasks and items that will be used to make up the PARCC assessment."

“Schools and districts make decisions each year about what types of hardware and software to purchase for instructional use, and they want to know that any devices acquired over the next two years will be compatible with the new assessments,” said Tony Alpert, chief operating officer of SBAC, also in a prepared statement. “We are confident that new computers and tablets meeting these specifications will be Smarter Balanced-ready in 2014-2015.”

Additional specifications will be released in the years leading up to the 2014-2015 assessments, such as bandwidth requirements, allowable input devices (keyboards for tablets, for example), audio (headphones), and operational and security requirements, along with details about support for systems failing to meet the current OS requirements or minimum hardware requirements. According to PARCC, accommodations will also be made for students who cannot take assessments online, including pencil and paper versions of its tests. (Additional details can be found in a FAQ posted by PARCC today.)

Complete current specifications for the two individual groups can be found on PARCC's site and SBAC's site.

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