Chico: schools won’t be able to give new state standardized tests without massive tech upgrades

State education official proposes $250M technology infrastructure fund for Illinois schools.

October 30, 2013

(Getty/File)

Illinois State Board of Education chairman Gery Chico says the state urgently needs to “play catch up” with technology in schools, in part because the state will be unable to administer its basic annual standardized exam to elementary students unless more schools are wired for the internet and outfitted with computers.

“It’s not chalkboards and textbooks anymore,” Chico told business and education leaders at a City Club luncheon Tuesday. “Don’t get me wrong, I love books. But today, a student with a device in their hands and a connection to the Internet can have more capacity than the Chicago Public Library, the Library of Congress, and the New York Public Library all put together.”

Chico said Illinois students’ access to technology varies widely, with some students in the state learning in classrooms with iPads and interactive smart boards, and others unable to access the internet. The state has a responsibility to address those inequities, Chico said.

But Chico also made clear the clock is ticking; Illinois is switching to new standardized tests next school year. Those tests are meant to be given by computer.

But education officials say currently, just a quarter of the state’s schools are technologically equipped to administer the exams, which are replacing the pencil-and-paper ISATs. The new tests go along with more rigorous learning standards Illinois has adopted.

State education officials say if schools are not ready by spring 2015 to administer the state exam online, the cost of offering a paper test will be about $7 per child.

Chico is proposing the creation of a $250 million “Illinois Schools Technology Fund” that would expand broadband access, upgrade wiring in schools, train teachers in tech, and buy devices. He suggests the state could use $176 million in unspent school construction funds, and augment with general state funds.

Asked by an audience member how schools slated for a construction project would feel about his idea, Chico said he’s “the eternal optimist about finding more funds to do school construction.”

Jesse Sharkey, vice-president of the Chicago Teachers Union, criticized the notion of paying for computers or other electronic devices with bond proceeds.

“There’s a reason you don’t buy a new set of clothes with a mortgage, which is the clothes are going to long be gone and you’re still going to be paying off the mortgage.” Sharkey said upgrading the state’s technology infrastructure will take sustained increased investment.