L.A. Unified unprepared for computerized state test

Beautiful Morris gives a big smile as she explores the possibilities with her LAUSD-provided iPad at Broadacres Elementary School in Carson.
(Los Angeles Times)

The nation’s second-largest school district is woefully unprepared to administer new state standardized tests by computer, a survey of Los Angeles Unified schools has found.

An internal district report, obtained by The Times through a California Public Records Act request, indicates that fewer than a third of Los Angeles schools said they were ready for this spring’s tests, which for the first time will be given online.

The survey comes amid a $1-billion effort to provide every student, teacher and administrator with an iPad or other computer. That effort has been delayed even though the Board of Education agreed this month to buy as many of the tablets as needed for testing.

The review, however, revealed larger problems: limited Internet access on many campuses, a lack of expertise at many schools and too few computers. Additionally, the iPads may not arrive in time.


At 122nd Street Elementary, which has 700 students, administrators initially thought that 17 computers could be used for testing but it turned out that only five would work.

At 2nd Street Elementary, there weren’t enough computers to test all students in a class at the same time.

Scores of campuses also mentioned similar computer shortages. For example, 75th Street Elementary, would have to rely on 50 computers to test 1,200 students. And the license for the operating system on those computers expires in March, which could render them unusable.

The 15 computers at Leland Elementary “are 10 years old and they only work intermittently, often do not boot up, or crash mid-use,” the school said on the survey.

Throughout district campuses, the number of computers that could be used for testing ranged from three to 564.

“Schools were very honest about their situation and that’s the best way to move forward,” said school board member Monica Ratliff, who heads a board panel overseeing the iPad project, which sought the review. “They were telling it like it is.”

At one level, the survey strongly buttressed the argument of Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy, who has repeatedly said the Apple tablets are necessary for testing, above and beyond their instructional value.

The review also demonstrated that L.A. Unified lacked a plan for the testing — other than the iPads.


The report came as a result of a push from the long-standing independent committee that oversees the spending of school-construction bonds, said Scott Folsom, a member of that panel.

(The iPads and computer network upgrades are being paid for with voter-approved bond money.)

“Like every district and every school in the state, LAUSD will be doing a huge amount of work over the next four months to get ready,” said Thomas A. Rubin, a consultant to the bond committee. “The real test will not be the absence of problems. The real test will be if the district can quickly respond and fix the problems. We’re just going to have to wait and see on that.”

Even schools with iPads were not immune to difficulties. The Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences is a new campus that has been using iPads schoolwide for two years.


“We were able to install the browser on SOME of the iPads that will be used for testing, but not ALL,” the school reported. “This is because many students still do not have working Apple ID’s or they were experiencing various other technical issues with the iPads (charging, passcodes, devices freezing, etc.).”

And when a few classes logged on at the same time, others had “delayed access and/or slower usage of the Internet"— creating a potential problem during testing and in the future, when all schools are expected to deliver most curriculum by computers.

Another issue that emerged was that school staff members were floundering with technology. One in four of the schools determined to be ready for the tests were not able to get to them online. Many of these schools “didn’t know what the secure browser was or how to install it,” according to an analysis of the survey from Cynthia Lim, who heads the district’s office of data and accountability.

“I am unsure as to why the secure browser would not fully download on certain computers,” Barack Obama Global Preparatory Academy said.


Maywood Academy Senior High did not complete the survey, noting, “Our tech person is only on campus twice a week and he was not here last week.”

The picture may be less bleak than presented because the survey only asked about computers that are available in traditional computer labs. An unknown number of schools have laptops or tablets that move from classroom to classroom. It wasn’t immediately clear why the district didn’t seek information on all computers, although some schools provided it anyway.

A school does not need a computer for every student; the tests in L.A. Unified can be staggered over a six-week period starting April 7. Still, when a computer lab is used for testing, it can’t be used for regular academic instruction.

That’s not a problem for Vanalden Elementary: “We have not used the lab in years,” the school said.


The new online test will be tried out this spring; results won’t be released. By next year, however, districts will be required to resolve their technology issues unless they decide to revert to a paper and pencil test, a temporary option.