Ohio superintendent Stan Heffner spoke to the Cincinnati Enquirer on Thursday and revealed some new evidence that he’s been thinking about how to fund Ohio’s next generation of statewide tests.  The new tests are expected to be launched in three years as part of Ohio’s implementation of the multi-state Common Core curriculum in Math and Language Arts.  The most significant change is that these tests will be delivered completely online, meaning that schools must have the appropriate amount of up-to-date technology to accommodate all of the participating students.  This is required by the state’s decision to change to these new assessments.

Actually, none of this is new information for the Ohio Department of Education (ODE).  Ohio was in the planning stages of this change for over a year prior to the official adoption of the test vendor by the State Board of Education in December, 2011.  And as recently as November, our friends at Join The Future revealed that ODE was still in the dark regarding how the large increase in technology would be funded.

But according to Heffner’s conversation with the Enquirer, he’s got a plan.

The new system is expected to cut testing costs for Ohio by a third, Heffner said, money which may go toward reimbursing school districts for computers and equipment for the tests.

Now before you get too excited, please notice that this was more of an idea than a commitment as evidence by Heffner’s insertion of the word “may” in that sentence.

And there’s also reason for us to temper our enthusiasm for Heffner’s proposal given his apparent lack of knowledge surrounding the dollar figures involved.  Either that or he thinks we’re not intelligent enough to know how much this is going to cost.

So let’s take a look at the numbers and see how far off Heffner is, shall we?

First is the state budgeted amounts for the Department of Education for testing.

Because we can’t be certain if Heffner was actually referring to only one of the line items, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and include both amounts for a grand total for testing of $67,836,906.  Heffner believes that one-third of that amount could be saved by the new process and be used to reimburse districts for the cost of computers.

$67,836,906 x 1/3 = $22,612,302 allocated by ODE for district computers and equipment.

Sure, $23 million sounds like a lot of money, but let’s see how close Heffner came to covering the projected cost?

Let’s start with some basic numbers and whittle them down.

The new tests will be required for students in grades 3-11.  Based on last year’s enrollment totals from ODE, that equals a total of 1,217,359 students who will be taking tests.  Currently the high school graduation tests are delivered in a different timeframe than the 3-8 tests, but given the typical setup of grade bands in schools across Ohio, we should experience very little overlap in the ability for those students to share computers.

The harder question has to do with estimating the cost of computers.  Fortunately for all of us, schools across the state have recently been converting from traditional desktop computers to terminal-style “thin-client” model.  A 2007 Associated Press article about the Princeton and Lakota school districts describes them as “a basic laptop that does not contain a hard drive but relies on a network server computer to store memory and run programs.”

In 2010, Gartner, Inc., produced a study that provides us with some pricing details for these thin-client computers for a large school district (with purchasing power): “[The school district] will replace these PCs as they fail, migrating to thin clients where possible, at a cost of $700 per [thin-client], instead of $900 for a new traditional PC.”

Additional costs for network support, including servers and maintenance will vary widely from one district to the next and are not easily estimated to scale for a statewide total.  We’ll be generous and not put Heffner on the hook for these costs (though remember this gift later).

Taking the number of students and multiplying it by the cost of each computer will give us the expected total of purchasing a working computer for each student.

1,217,359 x $700 = $852,151,300

Hmm.  Seems a tad bit higher than Heffner’s number, doesn’t it?  We’re not done tweaking.

Remember that the budgeted number from ODE is annual and we shouldn’t need to purchase these computers every year.  HP reports that the life-cycle of their thin clients is typically five to seven years.  Staying with a generous estimate, we’ll allow a replacement cycle of the full seven years for these to last, meaning we need to divide our total hardware cost by seven.

$852,151,300 / 7 years = $121,735,900 annually

Still too high, right?  Surely some schools already have some working computers, but how many?   eTech Ohio, the state agency dedicated charged with empowering learning through technology, has set a 5:1 student to computer ratio as a guideline for schools.  If every school has been able to fund technology purchases to meet that recommendation, then we can cut another 20% off of our total for pre-existing computers.

$121,735,900 x 80% = $97,388,720 annually

Heffner is still $75 million short in his funding scenario.  Let’s be exceedingly generous and presume that the testing schedule could be adjusted to allow the computers to be shared by equally by two students. (Teachers, can you imagine doubling the current number of testing weeks?)  This adjustment would further cut our calculated number in half:

Our final annual cost: $48,694,360

ODE’s “maybe” budget: $22,612,302

Annual deficit: $26,082,058

It’s fantastic that Superintendent Heffner has finally thrown out a number, but I believe we have legitimate reason for concern when that figure represents less than half of the amount Ohio’s districts will need on an annual basis, especially given our very generous calculations in ODE’s favor.  And remember that our final amount does not include the other associated costs of equipment, technology support personnel, or training for end-users.

I apologize if your head is swimming in the numbers, but we have one fairly large issue to tackle her in wrapping up.  Remember when we did that breakdown to an annual calculation and divided by seven?  That will work once everyone is up to speed for testing which is set to occur in only THREE years.  And that budgeted money that we pretended that Stan Heffner had the authority to reallocate without talking to Governor Kasich?  Well, Ohio is still engaged in the current testing until the new assessments are rolled out, so there is no “extra” money until the new tests begin.  But schools can’t wait until that time to upgrade and purchase enough computers to prepare, meaning that over the next three years schools will have to find money in their already strained budgets to buy the equipment.

How much will Ohio’s school districts be on the hook for to implement the state’s changes?

Re-creating our previous calculations on an accelerated, 3-year schedule gives us the magic number schools will need to find in their local budgets:

$852,151,300 x 80% x 0.5 / 3 years = $113,620,173 per year

So what we really need to hope is that Stan Heffner is lobbying for Governor Kasich to add at least this amount into his education budget for the next three years.  Call me pessimistic, but that’s not a prospect that we should view as very likely.



  • Edtechdude23

    It’s actually soooo much worse if you add in the cost of the building network infrastructure that needs to be in place before the student computer devices can even be used. Figure in another 10-40 million, plus about 10m more per year in broadband costs. Do the Gartner costs include tech support costs, because that’s the larger portion of the lifecycle cost of the individual devices? There is no money in any budget for this, and the ODTLF is barely getting their arms around the existence of the issue, let alone the long term implications, including the cost of professional development for teachers to use the new technology in a way that actually positively impacts student learning…..

  • gregmild

    The Gartner costs did NOT include pro-rated infrastructure costs, and that’s the primary reason I also opted to leave those out.  Those will end up being so variable based on district size, location, current investment, etc.  BUT we certainly know that those will be sizable expenses.

    My general philosophy on assembling this post was to be extremely conservative so that I could avoid claims of inflating the numbers to make it look worse.  It looks bad enough knowing that I undercut the more realistic projected costs by such a large amount as you pointed out.

    Something’s going to have to give on this issue pretty soon since districts have long-term budgeting requirements.

  • Not so innocent Bystander

    If you are assuming that each child needs a computer while testing, that is not how the new assessments are being delivered.  In a month there will be an 8th grade on-line pilot for Social Studies on the new assessments and my school is hoping to be one of them.  The concept is that you rotate kids in and out of testing situations, so at one given time you may have 50 kids on computers in your school doing assessments, the rest doing whatever (just what that is… another logistic issue).  The bank of questions will allegedly be so large that two kids sitting next to each other would never get the same question to pop up while test taking.  Supposedly…

    So you don’t need 1000 computers for a school with 1000 kids.  You could use 50 computers and cycle the kids through the testing window.  The tech cost is only one part of the issue.

    Bigger issues… the state is also talking about formative tests each quarter in the core areas (which includes Social Studies and Science, even though they are not technically “common core”).

    So you will have 3 to 4 times a year, where you will cycle your school (in grades 3-8) through a computer lab situation to do tests that could be an hour long (formative) and 2.5 hours (end of course).

    Just what will kids be doing when they are NOT in those testing situations?  A normal schedule cannot be run. 

    So it MAY be possible that the testing savings could offset technology changes.  But that “may” depends on no further state cutbacks and no further shuffling of funds elsewhere.

    But even if it does cover the cost, it doesn’t cover the logistic nightmare that’s coming…

  • Troysteelerfan

    I am going to make a small prediction here….several years ago, I remember hearing a story about some cash strapped districts suing the state when it was mandated that each student use the exact same calculators on the state math assessments and it was left up to the districts to pay for said calculators…the schools did not have the money in their budgets for this and sued..I predict the same thing will happen with this…schools that can’t afford this will sue and win….

    No at ODE has apparently thought this through very much – doing the tests in this manner is just going to create one huge cluster

  • Edtechdude23

    The type of rotation you describe could address the mechanics of the testing process, but the research shows there is a mode shift between instruction and assessment when one is delivered on line and the other is delivered offline. Basically, if you’re going to assess online, you need to instruct online to some degree (but that doesn’t mean you have move to online courses and put teachers out of work).

    Assuming you need devices for each kid to deliver testing, and assuming you need to use those devices for instruction, it opens up a lot of interesting possibilities in the classroom by exporting blended leaning options. However, technology alone won’t solve it (as witnessed by the millions of dollars spent by SchoolNet on computers around the turn of the century).

    The problem is we need administrators to support teacher to change their classroom practice to use the technology in ways that benefit student learning. Realistically, if we started today as a state, we _might_ get the professional development done by 2014 if we were to dump $5-20M into the system.

    But then what? All of Greg’s points still apply, and they need to be addressed simultaneously. Additionally, we need an open ecosystem of content resources supported by the type of student achievement data system used by the Khan Academy that helps the teacher identify strengths and weaknesses of individual students, and select content and activities to meet those individiual needs.

    If we put THAT type of system in place, then I think the technology and service investment of $1B is worth it. Maybe we should take some fracking profits off the table for this….

  • guest

    How will the students be observed? Meaning, couldn’t a student look up answers on google? 

  • Dmoore2222

    All good comments and great breakdown of the expense scenario, Greg. It’s pathetic that after four Supreme Court decisions on the unconstitutionality of our school funding system we still have political and education leaders throwing numbers around to try to make people believe they’re saving money and making improvemens when all they’re doing is compunding the problem. This ranks right up there with the 4th Grade Reading Guarantee and  teacher merit pay. This amateurism is the hallmark of the Kasich administration. And everyone else will be blamed when it doesn’t work.

    What’s even more pathetic is how this will adversely impact the likes of a Stuebenville, which attained an excellent rating against all odds, and now will be further demoralized by this chump of a governor who had the gall to show up there after he crapped all over them with his budget.

  • Edtechdude23

    Some of the testing tools take over the computer for a given period of time, so google access would be limited. However, you bring up an interesting point that no one knows (yet) what the testing system will require. Ohio is part of a multi-state consortium (PARCC, I believe) that will develop and deliver the assessment. Pearson Education will be delivering a “readiness” assessment (soon) to gather requirements for the construction of the tests and to start to inform buildings of what they need to provide to kids to take the test.

    Basically, even if we had the money, we still don’t know what the technology platform requirements are to deliver the test

  • Dmoore2222

    Usually once you log into these testing sites it blocks going out to any other site.

  • guest

    Can’t kids get around it? I did a quick search via google and found” Overide School Firewalls” Kids are so far ahead most adults that they would have a work around for it. I just wonder if our legislatures have thought about this?

  • An old educator

    The cost of purchasing the computers is only a portion of the cost. It cost cost $20-80,000 more per building to get enough wireless connection points in a school building to allow the student to take the tests. Then you must consider the cost to get the connectivity from the ITC (Information Technology Center) or large urban district to the building which is referred to as the Last Mile. Then consider the state paid for the Middle Mile connectivity (from the state backbone to the ITC or large urban district) in 2005 for $7.1 million dollars. That was paid for up front in a ten year contract that will expire in 3 years and will need to be renewed at an unknown cost at this point. The Governor is also going to upgrade the state backbone from 10 to 100 MPS which is really needed considering the rapid grpwth in the use of the Internet. So the total cost of this testing program is much more than your conservative estimates.

  • gregmild

    Indeed.  And that was a point I was trying to make.  My numbers are obscene enough and yet they are low and incomplete.

  • westparkguy

    So who is going to pay for all the computers that the charter schools are going to need?

    I sure hope that they don’t expect a handout from the State, especially when the computers become their property.

  • westparkguy

    The real questions that people should be asking, is this going to make Ohio’s education system better? Are our children going to get a better education with all this testing?

    The idea of dumping 10’s of millions of dollars into hardware and software for computers that might be used 4 or 5 times a year doesn’t make any sense in terms of increasing the quality of education. I say let the educators come up with a long-term, comprehensive education plan and then use technology to increase the quality.

  • Anastasjoy

    I just don’t see how having groups of 50 kids rotating in and out of classroom situations won’t be complete chaos, trying to track which kids were where when and what material they covered, even if they have shortened testing by as much as you say. It seems to me there would be even longer periods when testing would be completely distracting from classwork and nothing would be getting done.

  • gregmild

    Doesn’t everyone improve when offered fewer days dedicated to actual instruction on a subject?  LOL

  • gregmild

    The charter schools who test students should absolutely be expecting the state to contribute to the expenses caused by this change.

    And the private schools who accept EdChoice vouchers and implement testing should also be demanding that the costs of the hardware be subsidized.

    And the taxpayers shouldn’t question the “fairness” of providing these tools for our children.  If the law permits these schools to operate and provide a “public” education, and if they are required to provide these tests, then they should expect assistance from the state too.  Now, we can debate the stupidity of said laws…..
    The key question that should be asked (as mentioned by many, many others) is, “How is this increased testing improving student learning?”

  • Not so innocent bystander

    I didn’t say it was a better system but that’s how some is who are out front on this are tackling it. I’m personally pushing to take the $ set aside for next textbook adoption in my subject and go Netbook or iPad. That helps address Edtech’s concern.

    The next shocker coming is that ODE is already greasing the skids that the PARCC tests are harder. They are projecting on Reading and Math 50 point drops in passing rates from current OGT/OAA to the new PARCC tests.

    None of this is going to make teachers popular and we’re not exactly top of the charts now.

  • Not so Innocent Bystander

    Hope this all fits, but here is more salient points from an e-mail to all schools interested in piloting the 8th grade on-line assessment.  It is a window into the online assessments that will be coming:

    The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) is proud to announce the Ohio Online Pilot Assessment.

    ODE is committed to making a transition to the next generation of assessments for the 2014–2015 school year. In May 2012, the Ohio Department of Education will offer an opportunity for schools and districts to participate in an online assessment pilot. The purpose of the pilot assessment is to provide educators, administrators and students with an opportunity to experience online assessments. The pilot will use grade 8 social studies content. Participation in the pilot will be limited to schools that have participated in the Spring 2012 Ohio Achievement Assessments (OAA) administration and grade 8 students who have a Statewide Student Identifier (SSID) number.

    Questions concerning the online pilot should be directed to Denny Wagoner in the Office of Curriculum and Assessment at 614 466-0223 or dennis.wagoner@education.ohio.gov.

    Why Is ODE Conducting the Online Pilot? Starting in the 2014–2015 school year, the Ohio student assessments will transition to an online testing system that uses multiple measures, including multiple-choice, constructed-response and technology-enhanced questions. By offering the online pilot, ODE is preparing schools and districts for the transition to online testing. In May 2012, schools and districts will be able to participate in the online assessment pilot.

    The purpose of the pilot is to provide educators, administrators and students with an opportunity to experience what it will be like to participate in online assessments. The pilot will use grade 8 social studies content. By participating in the online pilot administration, districts, schools and students will have an opportunity to become acquainted with the features of an online testing system.

    District Test Coordinators (DTCs) and Building Test Coordinators (BTCs) will see some of the new processes, procedures and technology that are part of an online assessment. This pilot will give all participants the opportunity to become familiar with an online testing environment and the newly developed technology-enhanced questions.

    What Types of Questions Will Be Used on the Pilot?
    The online pilot will be comprised of multiple choice and technology-enhanced questions. The technology-enhanced questions will be interactive and will demonstrate ODE’s intent to use more innovative approaches to assessing students.

    How Much Time Will Be Needed to Complete the Online Pilot? While the online pilot is an untimed test, ODE recommends that schools plan for an hour for the administration, which includes time allotted for students to get set up and logged into the system (about 15 minutes) and to complete the questions (about 45 minutes).

    What Kind of Results Will Be Provided for the Online Pilot? Official student score results (downloadable scores posted, score reports printed, aggregate district/building reports, or interactive data) will not be provided for the grade 8 online pilot.

    Scores for this pilot shall not be reported in EMIS. After a student finishes taking the pilot assessment, he or she will be given a raw score only. The raw score will be provided immediately after the student has completed the pilot assessment. The immediate release of a student score is one of the many advantages of an online assessment. The student score should not and will not be used in any official capacity.

    What Steps Need to Be Completed in TIDE Before the Pilot Is Administered?
    Below is an overview of activities needed to be completed to prepare for the online pilot. More detailed information on each of these activities will be made available in the coming weeks.
    1. Use TIDE to upload student pre-ID data for participating grade 8 students.
    2. Use TIDE to assign user roles (additional information on user roles is on the next page).
    3. Download and install the secure browser on each machine to be used by a student for testing.
    4. Provide training to Test Administrators (TAs), using the materials available on the Online Pilot Portal.

    What Is the Secure Browser?
    The secure browser is how the online assessment is administered to the students. On April 16, the secure browser will be available via the Ohio Online Pilot Portal. School personnel will need to download and install the secure browser onto each computer that will be used by a student for online testing. The secure browser creates a secure connection to the online testing server and prevents the student from accessing any other programs on the computer. This must be completed before a student is scheduled to start the test.

    What Accommodations Will Be Offered for IEP or ELL students?
    Although online testing can offer increased accessibility for IEP and ELL students, the pilot will not utilize most of these technologies. For purposes of the pilot, online accommodations will be limited to the ability to change the zoom level on the screen to make the text and images larger and to change the background color to improve the screen’s contrast for students who have difficulty reading black text on a white screen. There will be no other online system accommodations.

    However, it will be the district’s decision to provide standard accommodations for the online pilot to students with an IEP or to ELL students. The student must meet the criteria to be assigned allowable accommodations. The list of allowable accommodations includes but is not limited to the following: extended time, use of a dictionary (ELL only), human reader providing a read-aloud, grammar/spell checkers (IEP only), whisper phone (IEP only), and ear plugs (IEP only).

    How Can I Get Additional Information About the Pilot?
    As the pilot approaches, additional information will be distributed to the field via online newsletters, email blasts, the K–8 and Ides of ODE newsletters (posted on the ODE website), and other communication forums.
    On April 16, an online testing portal will be available for schools and districts to access all reference documents and links related to the May online assessment pilot.

    Minimum Technology Requirements for the
    May 2012 Online Pilot Assessment
    This document contains the minimum technology requirements that schools and districts will need to prepare for the May 2012 Online Pilot Assessment using AIR’s Test Delivery System (TDS). These requirements are only for the 2012 Online Pilot Assessment; the technology requirements may be updated and changed for future online assessments.

    This document contains the following sections:
    ? Minimum Hardware Requirements
    ? Supported Operating Systems and Web Browsers
    Minimum Hardware Requirements

    To prepare for the Online Pilot Assessment, ensure that your computers meet the minimum requirements for each operating system, as shown in Table 1. In addition to the specifications below, all desktops and laptops should be equipped with a working keyboard and mouse/touchpad capability.

    The Online Pilot Assessment will function effectively with these minimum specifications. However, faster processors and more disk space will improve overall performance with the Online Pilot Assessment.

    Note: Ensure that your computers’ specifications meet the minimum requirements for the operating system you have. For hardware or operating system support, contact the manufacturer.

    Table 1. Minimum Hardware Requirements for the Online Pilot Assessment Operating System Minimum Requirement for Current Computers Recommended Minimum for New Purchases
    (2000, XP, Vista, 7)
    Pentium 233 MHz processor
    128 MB RAM
    52 MB hard drive
    1.3 GHz processor
    2 GB RAM
    80 GB hard drive
    Mac OS X
    Intel x86 or newer or
    PowerPC G3 or newer processor (10.4 and 10.5)
    256 MB RAM
    200 MB hard drive
    Fedora Core 6 (K12LTSP 4.2+)
    Ubuntu 9 and 10
    Pentium II or AMD K6-III 233 MHz processor
    64 MB RAM
    52 MB hard drive
    Note: NComputing and Terminal Services are supported on the following platforms:
    ? NComputing is supported on computers running Windows XP.
    ? Terminal Services is supported on the Windows 2003 and 2008 servers.
    Requirements for Appropriate Display (Monitors)
    ? The minimum recommended screen size is 11.6 inches.
    ? The minimum supported resolution is 1024 x 768.
    Note: Individuals using smaller monitors may need to use vertical and/or horizontal scroll bars to view all test-related information. Students may also use the Zoom tool in the tests to enlarge the content on the screen.

    Supported Operating Systems and Web Browsers
    Table 2 provides an overview of the supported operating systems and corresponding web browsers for each TDS application. Please note that all applications require that pop-up blocking software be disabled and JavaScript be enabled.
    Flash is bundled with the secure browser installation packages and does not need to be installed separately.

    Table 2. Supported Operating Systems and Web Browsers Application Operating System OS Version Supported Browsers Recommended for Optimal Viewing
    Student Interface
    2000, XP, Vista, 7
    Windows Server 2003, 2008
    Windows Secure Browser 5.0
    Mac OS X
    Mac Secure Browser 5.0
    Mac OS X
    Mac Secure Browser 5.1
    Fedora 6 (K12LTSP 4.2+)
    Ubuntu 9 and 10
    Linux Secure Browser 5.0
    Test Information Distribution Engine
    Test Administrator Interface
    Firefox 2.0–9.0
    Internet Explorer 6
    Firefox 3.5–9.0
    Windows Server 2003
    Firefox 2.0–9.0
    Internet Explorer 6, 7, 8
    Windows Server 2008
    Firefox 3.0–9.0
    Internet Explorer 7, 8, 9
    Windows Server 2008
    Firefox 3.0–9.0
    Internet Explorer 8 and 9
    Mac OS X
    Firefox 2.0–9.0
    Safari 3
    Firefox 3.5–9.0
    Firefox 3.0–9.0
    Safari 3, 4, and 5
    Firefox 3.6–9.0
    Safari 4 and 5
    Firefox 3.6–9.0
    Safari 4 and 5
    Fedora 6 (K12LTSP 4.2+)
    Ubuntu 9 and 10
    Firefox 2.0–9.0
    Firefox 3.5–9.0
    Note: Mozilla releases new versions of Firefox approximately every six weeks. The Firefox versions listed in this table are those that AIR has confirmed to be compatible with each system.

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