In selecting a school district to partner with for this pilot study, the New America research team considered a variety of factors, including the size of the school, the capacity of technology staff, the physical architectures of the schools, and district location. Based on these criteria, New America selected Virginia's Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS). Virginia has historically been an early adopter in the move to online testing, and ACPS has been a leader in integrating technology and instruction.
Alexandria district leadership was particularly interested in participating in this pilot study to explore new ways to assess the capacity of their network. Prior to starting the pilot study, New America researchers obtained an IRB exemption for this research from a third party, independent IRB firm, in response to research requirements from the district’s Office of Accountability.
ACPS’ collaboration on this project, validation of the pilot design, and assistance throughout the project was critical to the study’s success.
New America researchers worked with ACPS staff to identify three school locations within the district to host the measurements: one elementary school, one middle school, and one high school. Within each school, three locations were selected to have the network speed and health measured periodically over the course of two months. At each of these locations a small computer running the Network Diagnostic Tool (NDT) measurement test was connected to the network and configured to run scheduled tests automatically. New America researchers coordinated with ACPS IT staff to ensure the devices functioned properly and were accessible remotely for monitoring progress, and made regular visits to the schools to diagnose issues that arose during the course of data collection.
During the testing period, the devices functioned just as any computer in use in the schools. NDT tests were scheduled to occur randomly throughout a 24 hour period, to distribute data collection throughout the day. The NDT test uses synthetic data to collect information about the connection quality, and specifically does not collect information about internet traffic, such as emails, web searches, videos viewed, or any personally identifiable information.