Networking and Wireless

To Prepare for Online Assessments, Some Schools Try to Break Their Own Networks

Call it Stress Test Week. Over the past few days, schools in Arizona, Kansas and Alaska took on the challenge of trying to break the networks they will use to support online assessments by encouraging overuse.

According to reporting in the Topeka Capital-Journal, on Jan. 27 "tens of thousands" of students in Kansas and Alaska were expected to log into sampler versions of the online assessments that the state was going to be introducing later this year in order to "uncover any problems."

There the day was referred to as "Break KITE Day," a reference to the name of the state’s testing engine. The tests are administered by the Center for Educational Testing & Evaluation within the University of Kansas, which also designed the assessments.

Some schools in Alaska joined the Kansas project, since that state is using the Center's tests as well.

The Tuesday testing uncovered a problem with caching, which testing center staff was able to repair in less than an hour. Other problems included malfunctioning text-to-speech functionality and a breakdown in communication that prevented some schools from receiving student login information.

One Kansas principal was quoted as saying, "It’s a dress rehearsal for what we're doing in the spring."

In Arizona today, according to Dysart Unified School District CIO John Andrews, 10 schools in the 25,000-student district invited students and staff to bring all of their mobile devices onto campus and connect to the Internet to stream video, listen to audio and visit websites to see how well the infrastructure can sustain that kind of intensive traffic.

Prior to the test, Andrews hoped to get between 4,000 and 5,000 devices hitting the network during a two-and-a-half-hour window. "I want them to bring the network down," Andrews said. "I want them to show me that what we have is not enough, so we can go back and see what else we can do to accommodate the needs of the online testing."

Arizona is on track to introduce new assessments this spring for third through 11th grade in math, reading and writing. The AzMERIT — Arizona Measurement of Educational Readiness to Inform Teaching — will be available on paper as well as in an online format. As an "aggressively" BYOD district, Dysart intends to use the online assessments, Andrews said.

"Obviously, it's a new venture for all the districts. I feel like you do your research and you prepare the best you can," he noted. "Either it will show us that all the decisions we have made in the past are the right decisions [or] what else we need to do."

By the end of today’s experiment, the Dysart stress test had been performed "with great success," Andrews reported. Seven of 10 schools participated in the first test, and 3,900 devices went online to visit media sites such as TeacherTube and YouTube for Education.

"We have proven that all the recent upgrades to our wireless network were well justified and the solutions chosen were the right ones for our district," he said.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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