[K12OSN] State Testing

Mike Ely mely at rogueriver.k12.or.us
Sun Feb 26 19:36:03 UTC 2006

Ken Grant wrote:
> Hello All:
> 	This may or may not be the best place to address this issue, but I
> figure there are enough tech/educational experts here that someone is
> bound to have encountered it.
> 	My problem: Our state, Wyoming, is converting all standardized testing
> for compliance with the "No Child Left Behind" law to computers. 
> Starting in about six weeks, children in grades 3-8, and grade 11, will
> be taking our state test online.  The test is designed by the state but
> admisistered through Harcourt Assessment.  To ensure that students do
> not have access to other parts of the computer they are working on, all
> testing must be done with a "secure browser." To get the browser to
> be secure a program called SiteKiosk is used. And you guessed
> it, it only runs on Windows and sometimes Macs.
> 	At this point the state is still dealing with many tech issues,
> including getting SiteKiosk to run on Macs.  I've been assured by
> people at the state level and at Harcourt Assessment that no testing has
> been done with Linux.  Since K12LTSP is being used by school districts
> across the nation, this seems to me to be a terrible oversight.
> 	I realize that the bigger school districts have the funding for Windows
> systems; however, we are a small Catholic school with very little
> resources to invest in IT.  K12LTSP is the only way we can get computers
> in the classroom.  
> 	All that said, have any of you been faced with a similar issue?  If
> so, how have you dealt with it?  How many schools with K12LTSP are using
> it as their only platform?
> 	I plan to make as much noise as possible with both the state and with
> Harcourt so that this situation can be corrected, but in the meantime
> any ideas on how to get SiteKiosk to run on Linux would be great.  Does
> anyone know if a Linux-based program exsists to make a  browser secure?
> 	Thanks for reading my rant and for K12LTSP...it's an awesome OS!
> Cheers,
 > Ken


I wholeheartedly support your intention to make as much noise as 
possible.  Oregon did something similar a few years ago, and like 
Wyoming, contracted with an out-of-state company (not Harcourt) for the 
testing implementation.  I can say with not a little bemusement that the 
first year of testing was an unmitigated disaster.  This is 
unfortunately typical where non-technical people write RFPs for 
technical services - there was no language in the original contract 
about things like window size (it required 1024x768, which blew away 
many computers we had in the district where I was then working), 
cross-platform compatibility, or W3C standards compliance.

The company provided their own "secure browser" which turned out to be 
an aged version of Mozilla with a custom chrome.  It was and to some 
extent an utter basket case - originally, Windows had permissions issues 
for limited-rights user accounts, the mac client was buggy, and the 
linux client still doesn't work very well.

 From what I can see of SiteKiosk, someone at Harcourt has made a very 
bad decision - it would appear to be specifically for users of MSIE on 
Windows (from their FAQ: "We are currently not planning on making 
SiteKiosk available for Macintosh (Apple), WinCe or UNIX/LINUX 
systems.") How anyone could think such an implementation is appropriate 
for K12 education escapes me.  Harcourt's website wasn't very helpful 
when I went looking for solutions there: it's almost useless when viewed 
using Firefox in Linux.

You could of course try various implementations of wine or terminal 
services, but the fact that Harcourt is eating Redmond's dogfood is 
discouraging.  Realistically, I don't see a technical solution to a 
political problem, so my advice would be to solve the problem 
politically.  Contact your legislators, write letters to the editors of 
the papers in Cheyenne, and otherwise be sure that this contract sees 
the light of day outside the smaller world of education.  Be sure that 
what happens is that people with experience in educational technology 
are involved in writing any new contract for the state online testing, 
and that the supported platform list includes software one would expect 
to find in a school district.

In the interim, apply extreme pressure to make available waivers for 
those schools and districts that do not have the resources to meet the 
specific requirements of the newly-mandated system.  And be prepared for 
a horrible mess the first year - from what you describe, it's almost 


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