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Sioux Falls students can't use computers for tests

SIOUX FALLS (AP) -- The Sioux Falls School District is spending millions of dollars on Google Chromebooks and Apple iPads, but students won't be able to use them to take standardized tests next year.

School officials said the $7 million purchase was motivated in part by the state's transition to online standardized testing, beginning in 2014. State officials told schools earlier this year that devices would be compatible with the 2014 tests as long as they had a keyboard and a pointing device, such as a stylus pen. But the Education Department about a month ago informed schools Chromebooks and iPads would not be compatible.

There are doubts about the ability to lock down the testing window on Chromebooks so students can't access other applications, and the iPad has a smaller screen than a standard desktop or laptop computer, so questions might not be displayed in the same way, Education Secretary Melody Schopp told the media.

Officials have not yet decided what to do, Schopp said. One option is sticking with paper-and-pencil tests, according to Deputy Education Secretary Mary Stadick Smith.

Sioux Falls School District administrators long have been interested in providing each student with a computing device, but the shift to online tests gave them reason to do it sooner rather than later. They worried that without more devices, students and teachers would not have access to their schools' computer labs during the testing window next spring.

School Board member Kent Alberty said he supports the technology purchase but that the devices' incompatibility with 2014 testing raises questions. He said he is not too concerned as long as the problem is resolved by 2015.

Schools have been assured Chromebooks and iPads will work for new tests being developed for 2015 and beyond, District spokeswoman DeeAnn Konrad said.

The technology upgrade "is really about increasing student achievement, student engagement and personalized learning," Konrad said. "The whole state testing is really a sidebar."

Schopp also said she still supports the Sioux Falls district's technology purchase because testing is secondary to improving instructional tools for students.

"Think first of instruction, and assessment is really the way to validate the good work we're doing with that," she said.