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Making The Grade: An Oklahoma Dealership Advances Testing Processes At Schools

9 May, 2005 By: Darrell Amy imageSource

Making The Grade: An Oklahoma Dealership Advances Testing Processes At Schools

With a national school system plagued by poor results, President George W. Bush announced in 2001 the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), his framework for bipartisan education reform that he described as, "the cornerstone of my administration." This new act required school districts to administer annual statewide tests to assure that students achieved proficiency in key areas.

Facing intense pressure to comply with the NCLB Act, administrators at the Jenks School District and Sand Springs School District, both located in suburban Tulsa, Oklahoma, decided they wanted to be as proficient as possible with the state’s standardized tests. In order to accomplish this, the districts partnered with Oklahoma Office Systems, a more than 30-year-old independent dealership with offices in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Shawnee, Enid, and Muskogee.

The Challenge

The initiative of the Jenks School District was to prepare pretests and post tests for all of the core subjects: math, writing, reading, science, and history. The concept was to give teachers an idea where their class stood at the beginning of the year, allowing them to customize their curriculum for their classes. Then, at the end of the year, a post test would let the teachers see how well their students grasped the lessons.

With over 10,000 students, however, the school district faced several challenges. First, how could 10,000 tests be administered and scored in a timely manner? Second, the school district wanted more than just raw scores on the tests.

It wanted to be able to see how students scored on individual questions or subject areas, and it wanted to see how different sub-groups scored.

Sand Springs School District Assistant Superintendent Karen Rose had a similar goal, but with a different approach. The district wanted to regularly assess the effectiveness of its teachers’ instruction through quarterly tests to measure their progress toward the educational goals and objectives. Based on the results of individual questions, teachers could then customize their teaching to make sure students grasp key concepts. 

The Solution

Oklahoma Office Systems integrated the RISO Automated Testing Solution, which includes assessment software, digital duplicators and multifunctional printers.

The combined hardware/software solution allows schools to create bubble sheet tests through the use of digital duplicators, scan in completed tests with the MFPs and grade the tests and generate reports through the software. The test results are scanned into the multifunction machine and are instantly graded. Detailed report options segment the results by question or by sub-group of students, which allows teachers to quickly analyze and adjust their instructional style or subject focus. This helps the school prepare for annual state assessment tests mandated by the NCLB Act.

Each of the districts had five scanning units installed at individual school sites, allowing the school systems to accumulate benchmark test results at each location.

Cost per scanning on a lease is under $200 per month per site and the RISO software that will allow connection over the LAN or WAN for up to 10 locations costs the district under $500 per month. The connected digital duplicator, which is the backbone of the solution that allows the high volume printing of the bubble test sheets, is also under $200 per month and can be used in the central district office or can be installed at each school to reduce copier loads, decrease overall costs and print other media that is typical in a school setting.

RISO, a digital solutions hardware and software manufacturer, has enjoyed a high adoption rate of its technology in schools across the country. As a result, the global company has been closely involved with the challenges faced by schools. 

"RISO hosted an education focus group three years ago and learned of the NCLB legislation and the growing assessment needs of schools," said Kevin Hunter, director of sales support for RISO. "That is when we started the development of our assessment software to help schools successfully meet the challenges of increased testing." 

The result was the creation of the Automated Testing Solution (us.riso.com/public/atm.asp). 

Oklahoma Office Systems quickly recognized the benefit of this technology. Victor Gollahon, the dealership’s digital products manager, passed training on the solution and began approaching local school districts, which included both Jenks and Sand Springs.

It is important for the dealership to have a technical person trained in the implementation of the solution.

"Someone in the dealership must take the initiative to learn the way the software is installed and supported," Gollahon said. "Without that person taking ownership of the project there is no real support after the sale and even minor problems will not be resolved in a timely manner."

Training for the solution, which covers software and hardware procedures for set up and installation as well as troubleshooting and support, is provided by RISO (leadfulfillment@riso.com). 

The Sale

Traditionally, school districts have not been much fun for copier dealers. Sales calls usually involve calling on the purchasing department of the school district to be added to the bid list. Business has typically been won based on low bids, flexible purchasing arrangements and service guarantees. In this commoditized transaction, differentiation is virtually non-existent.

Selling from a solutions orientation, however, provided Gollahon with a little more leverage. Through the solutions approach, the dealership can rise above the competition by framing the sale based on the core needs of school districts, which are improving standardized test results and enhancing instructional effectiveness. 

"Acquiring this type of system involves the cooperation of the administration, beginning with the superintendent and then down the line to the curriculum directors, assessment director and principals," explained Gollahon. "Engaging the school district at the executive level ensures that action can be taken when the administration sees a benefit." 

The buying process begins with a call to the superintendent, school board members or director of testing. This call can be preceded with marketing materials that highlight the challenges of testing and explain the functionality of the solution. Other effective ways to meet these people include presenting or displaying at statewide meetings of school administrators or school board members. 

Once an appointment has been secured, Gollahon said the most effective way to capture their attention is to show them the solution in action. 

"You can send as much information and explain it all you want," he said. "Recognizing what this system can do comes with seeing it, not hearing it. I have spent literally months and made dozens of phone calls to several different schools, but only when they actually saw me scan bubble sheets and immediately print reports did they understand the power and simplicity of the solution."

Gollahon has found that almost everyone who observes this solution is not just impressed with it, but excited about what it can do. Once the school administration is enthusiastic about the concept, the next step is to agree on a configuration that meets the needs of the school district. 

From there, the request is made to the purchasing department. Of course, the process takes time. Gollahon said that it usually takes at least a couple of months and possibly up to a year, depending on budgets, bond issues or other roadblocks, before a potential sale can be wrapped up.

Since the solution is related to testing, however, school districts are able to apply for special grants to help fund the cost of the solution. The RISO solutions system qualifies for grants that cover the following topics: student identification for NCLB, professional development for teachers, and information dissemination for student demographics.

In some cases, the solution may be bundled with a larger bid for copiers or duplicators.  The Sand Springs School District, for example, awarded Oklahoma Office Systems a contract for more than 40 units that will produce more than 10 million copies per year. Gollahon believes that offering the RISO solution as a part of its bid is the main reason the dealership was awarded the entire copier contract.

"I have enjoyed promoting and talking with schools about this product more than any other in my career of over 20 years," said Gollahon, whose company has gained a new credibility within the school districts.

The Implementation

Once the sale is complete, implementation can begin at the IT department by gathering student, teacher, course, and other school information. Loading test software on a server then testing the validity of the data is crucial to a successful start. The testing is followed by the installation of the hardware and software at the remote sites, which takes a couple of days no matter the size of the school, according to Gollahon.

Numerous people in a dealership will get involved with implementing this solution, but the level of understanding and training for both sales and the technician is one notch above.

Once the system is installed, administrators and teachers are instructed on how to create and grade tests. Teachers must be trained on how to use the system properly and return reports. Principals need understanding of these reports and someone at the administrative level will need training on how to print district assessment reports. All of this is fairly simple and is not time consuming, but is more involved than a simple duplicator installation.

This could be done with all of the teachers in one session during a professional development day or it can be done at each individual school. Training requires about 30 minutes per site and another couple of hours with someone in assessment. Follow up training with some staff will likely be required over the first couple of months.

The Benefits

Approaching schools with a solution to their testing problems helps dealers gain favorable attention and develop strong relationships with the school districts. The solution also addresses a real need. 

"The biggest benefit has been the quick turnaround to the teachers," Rose explained. "We can get reports back to the teachers in the same day the test is taken. I would encourage other districts to look at a system like this because it really helps you get organized and think about how you do your testing."

In addition to helping with district wide assessments, both school districts are using the system for regular classroom tests. The Jenks School District is using an additional module in the RISO solution to create and administer surveys to students, teachers and the community.

The Sand Springs School District has discovered that the solution is less expensive than purchasing conventional bubble sheets, which can cost anywhere from four cents per sheet to more than 10 cents per page if customized. The RISO duplicator, however, can create bubble sheets on plain paper at less than a penny per sheet, including the cost of paper. A school could implement 10,000 sheets for less than $100.

"These kinds of things will end up saving the district money in the future," said

Debra Ensminger, director of student assessment for the Jenks School District. "Now that we have the systems, other locations are requesting them. To me, this is a real sign that the teachers have adopted the technology."

Most importantly, Gollahon believes, is that providing this type of solution lets dealers truly make an impact in their communities. 

"I have seen digital and color technologies grow and provide me with many new opportunities for new business, but nothing compares to this," he said. "This is something that can make a difference in our state, in individual schools and with all the teachers that work diligently in them by making a difference in the life of a child."

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