(TNS) — When Ledyard Public Schools in Connecticut implemented the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests for the first time in May, everything relating directly to the tests went smoothly: computers didn't hang up and testing was completed as scheduled.
The same couldn't be said for the rest of the building during the multiple weeks of testing, though. The tests are only given in certain grade levels. Teachers of students in other grades, prohibited from streaming video or otherwise using much bandwidth, were limited to Google searches and email checking. And seniors attempting to do research sometimes couldn't find a free computer.
That's because the new tests, part of the Connecticut Core Standards, can only be completed online.
"It was one thing to be SBAC ready," Superintendent Cathy Patterson said. "Were we? Certainly. But that's the wrong question."
Since last year's SBAC pilot testing and even before that, Patterson and others have been planning ways to expand the district's technology infrastructure. This summer, two projects are underway: one that will make the connection between the district's buildings 100 times faster, and another that will put wireless Internet access in every classroom.
The projects, which Ledyard Public Schools Business Manager Jason Lathrop said should be finished before students return to school this year, are expected to cost a little less than $400,000.
When the state Department of Education announced late last year it had $10 million in bond funding available — its second round of grants aimed to help school districts meet technology needs relating to the Connecticut Core Standards — district officials saw it as an opportunity to fund the technology infrastructure improvements.
The grant as initially outlined, Lathrop explained, had no cap on how much a district or other eligible applicant could ask for.
But after Department of Education officials received several applications, they decided to pull and revise the grant. Reissued in May, the grant no longer has a matching funds requirement, but it does include a cap of $22 per student.
"The way the grant was structured the first time through would have resulted in too few districts getting money, leaving the vast majority of applicants with nothing," said Abe Krisst, a state Department of Education official, during a May 29 bidders' teleconference.
The department awarded 128 applicants covering 126 municipalities during the first round of grants, which occurred in November of 2013.
With the cap, state Department of Education official Steve Martin explained, it is "quite unlikely that the money will run out." But, he added, the department will reduce awards proportionately should that happen, with all who apply successfully guaranteed at least $10,000.
For Ledyard, the change in the award date, now September at the earliest, and the newly instated cap mean a change in plans. With 2,502 students as of October, district officials can ask for no more than $55,044, and they can't use the bond money to reimburse a completed project.
Through a combination of money left over from the 2014-2015 fiscal year and the federal Schools and Libraries Universal Service Fund program — which provides Ledyard Public Schools with a 55 percent discount on telecommunications, Internet access and internal connections — Lathrop said the district still should be able to finance the ongoing infrastructure projects.
Now, school representatives hope their grant application, which is due by July 17, will result in funding for additional computers, primarily for the high school. Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Byars said the computers would help meet the demand during SBAC testing and could be used in math and science labs through the rest of the school year.
"While we know the testing creates changes within students' schedules ... we hope, with improved infrastructure, it doesn't change what actually happens in the classroom," Byars said.
Not all districts have been affected by the changes in the grant.
In February, Groton Public Schools applied for about $100,000 — to be combined with an additional $100,000 in Department of Defense supplemental impact aid — in order to reach its goal of offering each high school student an individual Chrome book laptop computer by the 2016-2017 school year.
Together, Assistant Superintendent Susan Austin said, the money would allow the district to provide incoming freshmen and incoming juniors with Chrome books this coming school year.
With 4,522 students, Groton Public Schools still can apply for $99,484.
"We're very excited," Austin said. "This is already a plan for us, with a four-year rollout. Because of the grant from the state, we're able to finish it quicker."
©2015 The Day (New London, Conn.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.