The opt-out movement is removing hundreds of thousands of students from the Common Core, it isn’t the only reason that numbers will be down in 2015… many schools simply lack the high-speed internet connection that the federally mandated test requires to complete the exam. Schools around the country, especially in rural areas are ill-equipped to access the test online. While the FCC has thrown money at the problem, the issue of accessibility continues to plague districts across the United States.
Here in South Florida, we’ve seen testing postponed due to outages and major cities have claimed a lack of high-speed access as a reason to refuse to administer the test. Outside of major metropolitan areas, accessibility is a major stumbling block. ABCNews.com reports about one California community that simply lacks the bandwith necessary to participate in the exam:
Nestled between mountains 60 miles from the nearest city, students at Cuyama Valley High School use Internet connections about one-tenth the minimum speed recommended for the modern U.S. classroom.
So when it came time to administer the new Common Core-aligned tests online, the district of 240 students in a valley of California oil fields and sugar beet farms faced a challenge.
New Cuyama has no access to fiber optic cables. Some residents live entirely off the grid, relying on solar power and generators. The local telephone company provided a few extra lines, but that only bumped speeds a few megabits.
“We tripled our capacity but it’s still woefully inadequate,” said Paul Chounet, superintendent of the Cuyama Joint Unified School District.
Across the country, school districts in rural areas like New Cuyama and other pockets with low bandwidth are confronting a difficult task: Administering the new standardized tests to students online, laying bare a tech divide in the nation’s classrooms.
Overall, 63 percent of public schools don’t have access to broadband speeds needed for digital learning. The problem is particularly acute in rural and low-income districts: Only 14 percent in those areas meet high-speed internet targets.
“It’s just very uneven all over the country,” Lan Neugent, executive director of the non-profit State Educational Technology Directors Association.
Worst-case scenario, several districts will be unable to take the test. But even partial accessibility presents hurdles for students who sit for the test;
In the meantime, they’re resorting to alternatives: Testing students in small groups, busing them to other schools and limiting all other internet access while exams are taken.
On a recent testing day in New Cuyama, 11 students filed into the high school’s small computer lab. Even with such a small number of test takers, students said they’d gotten kicked offline and had to log in again.
“It got me off track,” said Brian Olivas, 17.
Will anyone at the Department of Education even bother to acknowledge that the handicap that students in rural areas face could skew their grades lower than those in schools with consistent high-speed access? Don’t hold your breath. In the meantime, we can expect that developments like this will only serve to make the Common Core more wildly unpopular than it already is.