School systems across the U.S. are caught in a dilemma. Tighter budgets are forcing schools to reduce costs even as they embark on ambitious plans to boost the quality of their education. Meanwhile, federal monies can no longer be counted on to cover the shortfall. It is a time when educators and school officials agree that cuts are unavoidable, but to do it right, they must master a tough balancing act between their unwavering commitment to education and their inescapable fiscal realities.
Adding to the pressure is another reality – namely, the rising cost of education. In the last five years, per-student costs have risen 10% to nearly $10,000 per student per year, according to the U.S. Department of Education. This unsettling trend has been driven in part by a series of mandates aimed at closing achievement gaps, preventing dropouts, and equitably serving more diverse student populations.
One of the ways that schools are meeting their education requirements is through better and more frequent testing, and to that end schools have widely adopted
technologies like Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) to make the testing and grading process both versatile and efficient. The investment has come at a cost however, with schools spending more on specialized OMR “bubble sheets” along with equipment to scan and grade the completed test forms. The technology frequently leads to delays, sometimes lasting days, when schools transport sheets off-site for processing. Such bottlenecks prevent timely student interventions and course adjustments.
The challenge for schools today is to get smarter about spending while refusing to compromise on educational standards. Mainstay Partners’ study of school districts showed that it is indeed possible to accomplish these twin goals.
The study showed that new testing and grading solutions can not only control operating and capital costs but actually enhance the educational process. The new solutions target key sources of waste embedded in traditional student testing and grading programs:
- Costly pre-printed bubble sheets for testing. OMR bubble sheets are significantly more expensive than plain paper and are hard to personalize.
- Off-site or inefficient test scanning and grading. Many schools rely on central offices to process the sheets and distribute the results. Shipping the forms is costly and cause delays – particularly in school districts with high mobility rates – that impact student achievement. Others grade the sheets manually, a costly time sink for teachers.
- Output device proliferation. Over the years, most schools build up a hodgepodge of output devices, including different types of printers, scanners and copiers. The multiple standalone devices consume valuable desktop space, take more energy to run, and cost more to maintain.
- Sub-optimal fleet management. Faced with device proliferation, schools are invariably challenged to keep all the machines running in a cost effective fashion. Inherent device inefficiencies, poor networking, multiple maintenance contracts, and sub-optimal consumables management all combine to keep costs high.
Add to this a host of other inefficient practices and it becomes apparent that schools can reap substantial savings by introducing solutions for tackling inefficiencies in testing and grading programs and the related output device infrastructure. In the sections that follow, we’ll share how leading school districts are using Lexmark Testing and Grading Solutions to combat waste, realize cost savings, and help teachers and students accelerate the learning process.
Contact Phil Boatman Phil Boatman (firstname.lastname@example.org) from Lexmark to learn more about Lexmark’s dealer products and services