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News | May 3, 2024

Connectivity to the Classroom: Butte MEPS Testing in Rural Montana

By Jeffrey Poulton

From the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains, the western terrain of Montana is diverse. Wi-Fi capabilities across the rocky landscape once limited the ability for Butte MEPS to administer the ASVAB CEP Computer Adaptive Test (iCAT), hindering many of the benefits like instant results for instant career exploration.

As Butte High School only enrolls around 1,300 students, navigating the terrain to reach young Montanans is essential in Butte MEPS accomplishing their student testing goal of 3,145. Recently, Butte MEPS obtained a satellite internet service device which allows testing personnel to travel with a ground receiver to schools across the state.

In April, I traveled eight hours to the far northeast corner of Montana to administer the ASVAB CEP iCAT at a high school in a small town called Medicine Lake. The isolated and rural community is home of the Fort Peck Indigenous Peoples Reservation. The high school had not participated in ASVAB testing since before the COVID-19 pandemic, and due to its lack of broadband capabilities had yet to experience the iCAT testing platform, until now.

I arrived at the school with a new tool in my arsenal ready to combat outdated paper and pencil testing: the portable Starlink satellite Wi-Fi system. The system was set up, connected to the satellite and generatedh a Wi-Fi signal in less than ten minutes.

A dozen students arrived, ready and excited to begin their test session, intrigued by the system coined to modernize their testing capabilities with uninterrupted high-speed internet in their technology-desolate community. 

One student asked, “Is it heavy?”

“No, total weight of the entire system is 6.4lbs,” I said.

Another asked, “Does it work anywhere?”

“Yes, anywhere on land if you have a power source and a clear line of sight to the sky,” I said.

Testing was completed without a hitch and afterwards a few of the students accompanied me outside to retrieve parts of the system.

“It looks like a mini cornhole board,” one student enthusiastically remarked, which is a very accurate description of the receiver dish.

The system was picked up and stored safely away in a carrying case, ready for the next mission. Although, it wasn’t dormant for long as the very next day it was used to supplement the existing Wi-Fi system of another rural school in Jordan, Mont. Students taking the ASVAB connected to the Starlink Wi-Fi signal for the test, to not overwhelm the school’s internal Wi-Fi system.

The results? Another successful iCAT test session with no negative impact on our partner school’s internal infrastructure and zero paper and pencil tests!

Looking ahead to the 2024-2025 school year, Butte MEPS is already devising its strategy to bring the iCAT to underserved schools throughout Montana and help USMEPCOM reach its testing goals across the command.