Livingston Parish school officials have invested millions of dollars in technology upgrades as the state rolls out more computerized tests.

Under the new iClass initiative, the School Board purchased 1,700 new computers to distribute to each ninth-grade math and English teacher. The Dell Latitude laptops first appeared in classrooms in October.

Schools may expand the program to other grade levels and plan to evaluate the performance of the now-wired freshmen to determine whether the new equipment is boosting academic performance.

Under iClass — which stands for Collaboration, Literacy and Assessment for Student Success — ninth-grade math and English teachers were each given 36 computers, enough for each student to use one in those classes, though they can’t take the devices home.

Julie Dupuy, an English teacher at Denham Springs Freshman High, demonstrated how students can share a note with study groups, submit their work online, review handouts and watch video clips using their devices.

For many students, the classroom computer is the only one they regularly use.

“We have a large population of students that don’t have computers at home or Internet,” Dupuy said.

The parish doesn’t keep track of how many students have access to an Internet-connected computer at home, but Dupuy said that at Southside Junior High, where her daughter teaches, more than half of children can’t log on to a computer with Internet from their homes.

There is a high correlation between connectivity and placement in honors classes, she continued, with students on less- advanced academic tracks less likely to have computer and Internet access at home.

There is a bright spot though — a large number of students or their families have access to smartphones, which can also access material on classwork, Dupuy said.

“When they’re not with us, they’re dealing with some sort of (electronic) device,” remarked Jody Purvis, supervisor of the parish’s high schools.

While computer literacy is important to students because of the proliferation of new technology, it’s also important to the school district for a specific reason — standardized testing.

“We understand that we’re headed toward online testing in the schools,” said Assistant Superintendent Joe Murphy.

High schoolers already take computerized tests, and students in grades five through eight will begin taking their state tests online next spring, Murphy said.

Computer tests differ from paper tests not only in media but in format, Dupuy explained. For English exams, that means fewer written responses and more multiple choice. Also, students are presented with questions one at a time, so they can’t look for clues or try to eliminate choices by flipping to other questions, the teacher continued.

“The technology age is going to be a lot more rigorous than people think,” she said.

One advantage of the new computers is that teachers may pose practice questions to a class and immediately see their responses to determine what material to review and which students may be struggling with particular concepts, educators explained.

As the school system attempts to determine whether to expand the iClass program, educators can evaluate the performance of the current crop of students using the new devices. They can compare this year’s ninth-grade test scores with previous classes’ scores, Dupuy explained.

Murphy said the Livingston Parish School Board has informally agreed to fund the program for three years. When it began, they spent about $1 million buying the computers. It cost another $1.5 million to upgrade the wireless infrastructure on ninth-grade campuses to connect the computers to the Internet.

It remains to be seen whether the use of in-class computers will spread, or how.

“Where is it going next? I don’t know if I can answer that,” Murphy said.

However, the assistant superintendent suggested that the spread of standardized tests to lower grade levels could influence future use. Or iClass could spread to other high school subjects first.

The district does not plan to use the devices to introduce online-only courses, Purvis said.

“It’s a blended learning environment,” intended to combine professional educators and online resources, he emphasized.

“We’re not replacing the teachers,” Murphy added.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.