This fall, nine states will be presenting their findings after three years of federally funded research into technology’s impact on teaching and learning–and an early look at these findings shows some promising results.
In West Virginia, for example, a program to provide school-based professional development in the use of classroom technologies has led to more widespread use of technology by teachers and students–and that increase, in turn, has been linked with achievement gains in reading and math.
In Texas, a program that gave laptop computers to students and teachers in some middle schools has been shown to improve school communications, reduce discipline referrals, and level the playing field for students from low-income families. At least one of the participating schools has gone from being a “low-performing campus” to meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), and parents and staff attribute these gains to the laptop project.
In Iowa, a statewide professional development program that uses peer networking and video conferencing to help change teaching practices has resulted in measurable gains in student achievement. Eighth-grade students reportedly have improved their math scores by an average of 14 points, fourth-graders have improved their reading scores by an average of 13 points, and fourth graders have improved their math scores by 16 points on average.
And in Arkansas, a program in which students use technology to solve real-world problems is having a significant impact. Students involved in the project are more likely to graduate from high school and more likely to go on to college than are their peers. Their achievement scores also tend to be higher than the scores of their peers from more traditional classrooms, officials say.
West Virginia, Texas, Iowa, and Arkansas are among the nine states that have received a total of $15 million in “Evaluating State Educational Technology Projects” grants from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) over the last three years. The other states are Maine, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
The grants funded states’ efforts to provide scientifically based research into the impact of large-scale, technology-based projects on student achievement in elementary and secondary schools. Participating states contracted with local universities or other private evaluators to measure the impact of technology on teaching and learning, and they are expected to submit their final reports from these studies to ED officials this fall.
Mary Ann Wolf, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), says an early look at some of these reports offers encouraging results. Wolf’s organization is working with eight of the nine states to disseminate their research findings through a SETDA-run web site.
The grants “have only exceeded expectations in terms of their … potential for improving education,” she said. “States and their research partners addressed important questions [regarding] the [impact] of technology on areas such as student achievement, teacher quality, and instruction, and [they] carefully addressed the context in which technology makes an important difference.”
In comparing the results from demographically similar control and experimental schools, Wolf said, state researchers have found some significant differences in areas such as student engagement, achievement, and discipline.
These differences are especially pronounced when certain factors are in place, she added, such as high-quality, ongoing professional development in the use of technology to support learning; effective school leadership; and a curriculum that personalizes instruction.
Previews of these states’ reports have come just a few months after ED released a major ed-tech research report of its own. That report, which touched off a firestorm of controversy in the ed-tech community when it appeared in April, shows that the use of certain software programs to help teach reading and math in some 439 classrooms did not lead to higher test scores after a year of implementation. (See ED study slams software efficacy.)
Critics of ED’s software study, including Wolf, have noted that many of the factors necessary for ed-tech success appear not to have occurred in the schools involved in ED’s study. As a result, average use of the software programs in that study accounted for only about 10 or 11 percent of the total instructional time for the entire school year–well below what the products were designed for.
What ED’s software study demonstrates, and states’ experiences confirm, is that “without ongoing and sustainable professional development, access to tools and resources, and leadership, technology’s potential [in education] will not be maximized,” Wolf said.
Not all of the results from the state research were definitive. In Texas, where researchers compared the outcomes in 22 experimental and 22 control schools over two years, there were pockets of considerable improvement among laptop-using students–but no statistically significant difference in the overall reading scores of students with laptops and those without.
Through the state’s Technology Immersion Pilot (TIP), each teacher and student in grades six through eight in the 22 treatment schools received a wireless laptop computer loaded with productivity software, and they also had access to online curriculum and assessment tools. In addition, teachers received technology training and ongoing support.
“We’re still looking at the preliminary results on student achievement,” said lead researcher Kelly Shapley of Shapley Research Associates. “There may be some effects, but we need more time to see the results. … We regard these as formative data, not summative outcomes.”
Still, the students in the pilot schools tended to be much more engaged in their lessons, did not have as many discipline problems, and demonstrated more interaction with their peers, Shapley said. And there was a significant increase in the pilot students’ proficiency with technology, which has narrowed the gap considerably between economically disadvantaged students and their peers.
In fact, she said, students in the pilot schools had passed their peers in the control schools in terms of technology proficiency by the end of the second year.
At Brady Middle School in Brady, Texas, students were testing below the state average in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade reading and math before the laptop project and above the state average in all of these areas two years later. As a result, the school has progressed from being a “low-performing campus” to meeting AYP.
“There is no doubt in the minds of our students, teachers, administrators, and parents that this would not have been achieved without TIP,” says Eric Bierman, the school’s principal. “The students have become more responsible for their learning, more active in their participation in the classroom, and much more knowledgeable about the role of technology in problem solving and learning.”