The Lawrence school district won't be forced to switch by 2006 to computer testing of students in reading and math.
Instead, state officials say it will be closer to 2009 before online examinations become the norm.
Supt. Randy Weseman had informed the school board last Monday of what he understood to be a government mandate requiring the district shift to a paperless system in three years for state assessments in writing and math. It would cost $1.6 million for computers, software and technicians to create that system, he said.
However, an assistant commissioner in the Kansas State Department of Education says no online testing mandate loomed for Kansas public school districts.
"We want to move to computerized assessments," said Alexa Pochowski, assistant commissioner. "We know we can't mandate them to buy the computers needed to do that."
Weseman said the Lawrence district began planning for the switch after receiving an Oct. 29 memorandum from John Poggio, co-director of the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation at Kansas University. The state contracts with the center to write assessments taken by public school students.
The memo said new state tests under development to meet mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind Act were being written for computer applications. Online exam opportunities for Kansas districts will expand in 2006, the memo says. It also says pencil and paper versions of the tests would be phased out after a short time.
"I think John has probably eaten those words for the past six or eight weeks," Pochowski said.
She said no state or federal mandates required students to begin taking tests in reading and math on a computer. Online testing has been discussed in Kansas, she said, but cost and logistics problems have impeded implementation.
"We're going to continue to offer paper and pencil and a computerized version," she said.
Friday, Poggio said he didn't intend to relay in his memorandum to Kansas superintendents, test coordinators, curriculum directors and principals that online testing would be required of districts by 2006.
"I certainly apologize for that miscommunication," Poggio said.
He said he was only trying to explain that new state assessments would be available online to districts in 2006. Use of these computer exams is likely to remain voluntary through 2008, he said. It might be 2009, he said, before a paperless system is fully adopted in Kansas.
The KU testing center has been in business for 20 years. It holds an exclusive contract to provide services to Kansas public schools for state-mandated testing in math, science, social studies, reading and writing.
Pochowski said Poggio's memorandum unfortunately left the impression with some district administrators that online testing would be mandated.
"He's the idealist and we're the pragmatists," she said.
Large districts in the state, including Wichita and Topeka, have balked at the cost of implementing computerized testing, she said. Unless millions of dollars is made available for the conversion, she said, districts will struggle to find money to adopt online testing.
Pochowski said she believed computer testing would benefit public school districts. Tests could be immediately scored and results used by teachers to intervene with students who struggled on the exams.
Use of computers in schools, for regular class work as well as tests, would be a benefit to students, Poggio said.
"The goal is to get technology in classrooms so it is part of the instructional system," Poggio said. "The tests are one way you can take advantage of that technology."