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NEW ORLEANS — Starting next school year, thousands of Louisiana schoolchildren will begin taking standardized tests online as the state moves to a new test aligned with the Common Core curriculum standards. But a new report released by the Louisiana Department of Education suggests that about one-third of the state’s districts still have to purchase more computers or upgrade their technology infrastructure in order to be ready in time.

The state recommends schools have a ratio of seven students to every one computer (including desktops, laptops, and tablets) and meet specified bandwidth requirements. A few school districts, such as St. James Parish, have a 1:1 ratio, while several others remain far from the 7:1 target. (The report does not include information from the dozens of state-run charter schools in New Orleans because that information is still being compiled, according to a department spokesman.)

Third grader Keimonni Conner does MAP testing to determine reading and language skills at Lawrence D. Crocker College Prep in New Orleans Friday, Aug. 16, 2013.(Photo by Dinah Rogers, NOLA.com / The Times-Picayune)

Next spring, Louisiana students will start taking an online test known as PARCC, which is being developed by a consortium of states that are all transitioning to the Common Core. Students in grades five through eight will take the new test online in the spring of 2015, while younger children in grades three and four will continue with paper and pencil tests for an extra year.

The shift to online testing poses major equity concerns, and not just because some districts have stronger bandwidth and more computers. Middle-income and wealthy students are more likely to have regular access to an array of tablets and computers at home that will help them become more proficient with typing and other keyboarding skills. Partly for this reason, several schools in the New Orleans area are adding keyboarding classes or requiring students to take online tests over the course of the school year to practice.

As part of an ongoing conversation on New Orleans education issues, Hechinger’s Sarah Carr spoke with WWNO’s Eve Troeh recently about technology readiness and the ways online testing could exacerbate the digital divide.

You can listen to the interview:http://hechingered.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/TroehCarrComputersMp3.mp3

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Sarah Carr edits stories and contributes reporting from New England. From 2011 to 2014, she oversaw Hechinger's coverage of New Orleans and Mississippi. Since then, she has led an investigative education...

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