KANSAS CITY — Missouri school districts are anticipating challenges as students switch to taking state tests on computers instead of with No. 2 pencils and bubble sheets, according to a survey released Tuesday.
By the 2014-15 school year, Missouri districts will be required to use computer-based assessments.
The Missouri Association of School Administrators said only 13 percent of districts believe the switch would be free of obstacles. The state has 520 districts, and 383 of them participated in the association's survey.
The results differed from the findings of a report released last month by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Ninety-eight percent of Missouri schools responded to that report, and about 95 percent said their computer devices provide the level of technology necessary to handle the testing. The state said the advantages of online assessments include quicker feedback about how students fared.
But the Missouri Association of School Administrators found that 37 percent of districts lacked sufficient bandwidth and 44 percent needed hardware.
The association's survey also found that 65 percent of survey respondents reported concerns about time. Roger Kurtz, the association's executive director, said that's because multiple classes must schedule enough time on their schools' limited supply of computers — often housed in a single lab — to take tests that can last for whole days. While the testing is under way, students aren't able to use computers for other purposes, Kurtz said.
Also, some administrators expressed concerns that elementary school students would become frustrated with the technology, making their scores a reflection of their computer skills rather than their knowledge of the content, Kurtz said.
He said districts vary on when they introduce their students to keyboarding skills.
"You just can't all of the sudden throw a computer in front of a child and say, 'Take a test on this,' and they've never really used or seen the equipment before or the program that is being run," Kurtz said.
Districts need more money for technology upgrades, he said, noting that a lack of state funding earmarked for technology improvements has left schools dependent on local taxpayers. Some districts are able to pay for those improvements more easily than others, Kurtz said.
"I think there has to be a commitment to funding technology if there is a commitment to asking school districts to provide the capability," Kurtz said. "Quite honestly, that is where education is headed.
"A lot of the textbooks are arriving on computers and notepads," he said, "and it is one of those things that there needs to be a continual commitment to. It's not just something that you do one year and then that takes care of us for 20 years."