Grant to boost access to technology in New Haven schools

New Haven Public Schools won a $2.7 million grant from the State Department of Education on Friday to fund additional computers in classrooms and increase the district’s Internet bandwidth.

Gov. Dannel Malloy and State Department of Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor ’93 LAW ’98 announced the grant, which awarded a total of $24 million to 126 school districts. The grant will fund upgrades in technology that are necessary for schools to prepare for next year’s statewide rollout of Smarter Balanced Assessments – computer-based standardized tests that complement the recently adopted Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Districts were given different amounts of money based on town wealth, with New Haven receiving the largest award of $2,657,647.

“Throughout my Listening Tour, I have heard about the need for more technology in schools and more equity of technology resources across the district,” Superintendent of Schools Garth Harries ’95 said in an email to the News. “This grant allows us to add thousands of computers to classrooms and will help students be better prepared for the way they will work and learn in the rest of their life.”

In 2010, the State Board of Education adopted CCSS, which creates benchmarks for the mathematics and English Language Arts abilities that students should have at each grade level. To accommodate these higher standards, districts are planning to replace the old Connecticut Mastery Test with a standardized test that better aligns with the math and English lessons being taught under Common Core.

These new tests, called the Smarter Balanced Assessments, will be administered on computers and other computing devices starting in 2014. This computerized adaptive testing method adjusts the difficulty of the questions throughout the assessment and tailors questions to students based on how they answered previous questions.

The grant will allow for schools in the district to acquire the technology resources they need to administer this test.

In New Haven, the grant will fund nearly 3,000 computers that will be distributed among schools in the district and will increase bandwidth capacity tenfold, according to a press release from NHPS Director of Communications Abbe Smith.

While the purpose of the grant was to assist in next year’s statewide rollout of the computer-based standardized tests, Smith said that the computers will also be used to enhance classroom instruction.

“The ultimate goal is to strengthen student learning,” Smith said.

When the grant was originally announced in July, the application process was competitive, and the state only planned to allocate 10 million dollars towards advancing technology in the state’s school districts, said Samaia Hernandez, a spokesperson for Gov. Malloy.

But because requests exceeded expectations, the state sought additional funds to ensure that all 126 districts that applied for funding would receive money and would become equipped to administer the new tests that require computers. Hernandez said that the additional money came from bond funding which otherwise would have gone to the state education department.

Districts are required to use the awards they received to purchase new computing devices, inter-school bandwidth, or inter-district bandwidth.

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