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Public schools to test Internet connection speeds

By Kim Walter

The Virginia Department of Education is asking the commonwealth's public schools to participate in an October statewide test of Internet connection speeds.

The goal is for each of the state's 1,867 public schools -- and all buildings serving as home to regional and specialty-educational programs -- to conduct 10 connection-speed tests during October.

Douglas Culler, network systems supervisor for Shenandoah County Public Schools, said he monitors bandwidth utilization, and has increased Internet connection speed as needed. Shentel is the district's Internet service provider and he said connection and overall speeds have been satisfactory.

Even though the division hasn't recently run into any connection problems, Culler said participation in the tests are important in showing potential areas of concern as more and more devices are added to the networks in each building.

"Teachers will tell you that the Internet is an integral part of teaching and learning," he wrote in an email Tuesday afternoon. "Currently, students are using a multitude of digital devices to access the Internet. At some point in the future, all students will have a digital device instead of textbooks. Maintained connections to the Internet and the speed are currently critical components in education."

Melody Sheppard, Warren County Public Schools' assistant superintendent for administration, said the division has been lucky enough to avoid difficulty with Internet speeds.

However, the school system will certainly participate in the statewide tests, especially with the increased need for Internet access in classrooms.

Standards of Learning assessments are given online, and the state recently handed down a requirement that all high school students take an online class in order to graduate.

Additionally, all seventh-grade science teachers in the division are using Kindles with their students, and part of the instruction includes resources and videos that are housed on the Internet, Sheppard said.

"Reliable Internet connectivity will continue to be an important part of our students learning experience," she said.

According to Rob Yost, IT director for Frederick County Public Schools, the division will also comply with the VDOE's request.

The division currently has adequate bandwidth for peak periods of use -- mainly during SOL testing. While no issues with connectivity have occurred, he added capacity will be needed as the division moves to more cloud-based programs and applications, he said.

Assigned testers in each school will complete the tests by accessing the Virginia School Speed Test website and following the step-by-step instructions. Tests will be administered over several days and should be performed at different times of day.

The Virginia School Speed Test is an online application that measures bandwidth experienced by teachers and students. Each test takes about one minute and documents upload and download speeds, as well as the browser and operating system of the device used to complete the test.

Virginia is a national leader in providing Internet access to students for instruction and assessment, according to the release.

Since 2001, the commonwealth has invested approximately $760 million dollars in infrastructure and hardware to create and maintain high-speed Internet connectivity in all schools and improve online instruction and testing capabilities.

VDOE will use data from the October connection speed tests to inform efforts to further improve Internet access for students, the release states. In addition, data will be shared with state technology agencies responsible for updating Virginia's Interactive Broadband Availability Map.

The Virginia School Speed Test is part of the National School Broadband Test organized by EducationSuperHighway, a nonprofit dedicated to improving Internet access in schools nationwide.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com

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