Purdy schools installing new technology

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Students easily added iPads to annual state testing cycle

From door locks to testing procedures, Purdy schools are implementing a number of technology changes that will change the mechanics of several school operations.

Superintendent Steven Chancellor told school board members locks on the buildings were replaced with key pads in the second week of May. Faculty, administrators and staff will now have access to buildings with cards, keypads and keys for access. Doors will unlock at 7:30 a.m. and lock at 4 p.m.

"We've replaced all the wireless infrastructure, every switch," Chancellor said. "We started the day before testing. It was risky, but it worked."

Associate Superintendent Mindi Gates reported all third and fourth graders, as well as the seventh and eighth grade math students, took their standardized state tests this year on iPads, something they could not do last year. Others used computer labs and computers on carts.

"We won't have to interrupt so many classes next year," Gates said. "Students who used the iPads want to do it again next year. We as adults worry about which device students are testing on. The kids don't care. They know how and they just use it.

Gates noted some students prefer the keyboard in the iPads. For longer questions, however, many preferred dropping to a real keyboard. Students in third and fourth grades have classes in keyboarding once a week, where they learn traditional typing methods. Students with iPads use a different technique.

"That's truly more of an adult issue," Gates said.

Last year, Chancellor recalled, anxiety was through the roof going into taking standardized tests entirely on computers for the first time.

"This year, we heard, 'Nothing surprised us,'" Chancellor said. "The early evidence suggests we made some good decisions."

"We had more glitches, like when all students tried to log on all at once," Gates said. "We started staggering the tests after that. People across the state were all using the same site. If you got kicked off, you could go right back to the question where you left off."

Gates added that results from most of the end-of-course high school exams had already come back from the state. She expected from reports that the middle school science results would come in early, mostly in July.

"I talked to some of the teachers," said Randy Henderson, school board president. "They said the test was hard, but the students had seen it all before. They don't know how the students did."

"We saw a lot of thoughtfulness," Chancellor said. "I think you'll be pleasantly surprised."

Anna Marie Erwin, the board secretary, had begun implementing the new accounting and payroll system. The switchover of the student database to a new vendor's program also had started. Chancellor planned to start scheduling students for the fall term before school adjourned.

"It will be a good change for us," he said. "There'll be some temporary pain, but it will pay off for us."

The new student records system, SISK12, is a product from Tyler Technologies, the same firm that provided the new financial program, the SISFIN. The student database increases the ability to integrate information and specify single points of entry for future consistency. Chancellor estimated migrating information from the old program, not built for the volume or detail it ended up carrying, to the new would cost approximately $20,000, depending on the amount of training needed to run it.

The system also carries a fee of approximately $8,800 for support, comparable to the old system. Chancellor expected to have the new database operational in time for fall re-enrollment.

"Both systems will be able to better leverage internet technology, with better parent web access, online enrollment that's coming in the fall, electronic payments, electronic purchase orders, etc.," Chancellor said. "They will also integrate better with our other programs: testing services, automated calling system, lunch program, etc. All-in-all, we can increase our efficiency, accuracy of data and provide a better service to various types of customers."

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