Based on statewide standardized test scores, Idaho students with high exposure to computers are 2.4 months ahead of students who have little interaction with computers, according to results just in from a study of 35,885 eighth- and 11th-graders who have been in Idaho schools since 1994.
“That’s $46 a year per child,” said Mike Rush, state Division of Vocational Education administrator. “It’s the price of a textbook.”
The results are good news for proponents of technology in classrooms. Requested by Idaho lawmakers, the study indicates the state’s $60 million investment in school technology is improving academic performance and making teachers more computer-savvy. The legislators asked for the report to check on how the money, which has flowed to schools since 1994, is being spent.
The results come even as Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne prepares to launch a $100,000 study of his own to measure computer effectiveness in classrooms. Kempthorne has recommended holding back a third of the state’s school technology money until his study is completed.
The legislative study just released focused on students who have been in Idaho schools since technology grants first were awarded five years ago. The report was prepared for the Idaho Council for Technology in Learning, which oversees computer grants to schools.
Most of the academic improvements came while computers were new in Idaho schools, said Carolyn Thorsen, a Boise State University professor who works with school districts to provide computer training to teachers.
And more teacher training is critical to get the most out of the state’s $10 million-a-year high-tech grants to public schools, state educators say.
“Given the extremely small exposure by untrained teachers, even that little bit helped some,” Thorsen said.
Teacher training, however, has hit a bumpy road in Idaho in the past several months. Among teachers taking a required computer competency exam, the failure rate has climbed 20 percent since September. Nearly half of Idaho’s 13,000 teachers have taken the exam. Only 3,500 have passed.
The exam is meant to ensure a minimum computer competency among teachers in kindergarten through 12th grades.
“We’re now moving into an area where teachers haven’t had much training,” said Rich Mincer, bureau chief for technology at the State Department of Education.
Without training, computer costs will be hard to justify.
“There still has to be a huge training effort to make technology cost-effective,” Thorsen said.