8 steps to evaluating ed-tech products

Even the best-designed technology pilots still involve a certain amount of trial and error when it comes to ed-tech products.

Now, a new eight-step framework from Digital Promise helps educators evaluate ed-tech products for quality and effectiveness. The framework also helps school leaders share their best practices and use research-based tools to their fullest capacity.

To develop the framework, the Digital Promise team reviewed the results of pilot studies of 15 technology products in 14 League of Innovative Schools districts across the country over the past three years.

The team identified a number of common themes and steps that help school leaders plan and conduct successful product pilots.

“We’re in an age now where tech is moving so rapidly and we don’t want to just do something to do it. We want to be able to analyze results,” Todd Keruskin, assistant superintendent at Elizabeth Forward School District in Pennsylvania, said in a post announcing the framework.

(Next page: The 8-step technology pilot framework)


School district in Georgia creates significant learning gains for Title 1 students

After successfully implementing Achieve3000’s literacy solutions in 13 of the district’s lowest-performing Title I elementary, middle and high schools, Muscogee County School District (MCSD) in Columbus, Georgia, will expand its implementation to include 21 additional schools. Participating schools will receive Achieve3000’s 24/7 differentiated, blended instruction for students, teaching resources and blended professional development for educators, real-time data dashboard for administrators, and robust home support for parents and guardians.

“For the next three years, Achieve3000 and the MCSD will work together to accelerate learning and put more students on track for college and career success,” said David F. Lewis, Ed.D., superintendent of Education, Muscogee County School District. “Students who participated in our district’s Achieve3000 pilot program as recommended realized significant overall Lexile gains that allowed us to accelerate their literacy instruction. As a result, our district expanded the use of Acieve3000 to schools throughout our district this school year.”

Over the 2015-16 school year, students who worked with Achieve3000’s literacy solutions, KidBizPro® for grades 2-5, TeenBizPro® for grades 6-8, and EmpowerPro® for grades 9-12 (Pro) saw significant literacy gains. Schools where students completed at least 40 reading activities (on average once per week) with the Achieve3000 Pro Georgia Edition saw the greatest growth, outperforming schools that weren’t using Achieve3000 by an average of 74 Lexile® points. Schools where students completed less than 40 activities also saw improved literacy gains, more so than non-using schools, exceeding the latter by an average of 14 points.

In addition, a July 30 story in the area’s local newspaper, the “Ledge-Enquirer,” reported that MCSD outperformed the three other districts in Georgia’s second-tier cities on the 2015 and 2016 Georgia Milestones Assessment System. MCSD narrowed the gap between its test scores and the state averages on 12 tests this year:

  • third-grade English language arts, science, and social studies
  • fourth-grade science and social studies
  • fifth-grade English language arts, math, science, and social studies
  • seventh-grade science
  • eighth-grade social studies
  • high school biology

Except for fifth-grade math, those tests covered areas in which MCSD uses Pro solutions, which are designed for English language arts, science, and social studies classrooms with a mix of student abilities or diverse student populations. MCSD’s Pro Georgia Edition is further customized to support mastery of Georgia’s grade-level standards and give students regular and targeted practice for the Georgia Milestones assessments.

“We are very excited to partner with a district as dedicated to 21st-century learning and student success as Muscogee County School District,” said Saki Dodelson, CEO and founder of Achieve3000. “We share their commitment to improving literacy achievement for all learners. By meeting kids at their precise reading level at 12 levels in English and 7 in Spanish, our blended, differentiated instruction solutions help all students accelerate their reading growth and get on track for college and career success. It’s been proven that students who use our solutions regularly make double to triple the expected reading gains in a single school year. We’re looking forward to collaborating with the innovative educators at Muscogee County Schools to meet and exceed their literacy goals for every student in the years to come.”

The Muscogee County School District, which serves approximately 32,000 students, is located in Central Georgia Region. Under the leadership of Superintendent Dr. David Lewis, the district is in the middle of a five-year strategic plan to improve reading and literacy, numeracy, science and social studies skills while actively engaging students and teachers. The plan started in 2012, when the district began to develop a comprehensive academic model that prepares every student for the demands of the 21st-century work force.

An integral part of the district’s plan is Achieve3000’s Pro literacy solutions. By differentiating the same grade-appropriate content at 12 reading levels in English and seven in Spanish, and providing robust scaffolds for struggling students and English language learners, Pro extends teachers’ reach without increasing workloads or time demands. At the same time, Achieve3000’s proprietary adaptive content system continually monitors each student’s reading performance and automatically increases the level of text complexity when it detects that an individual is ready for more challenge, steadily moving students up level by level. In addition, because Achieve3000’s solutions are cloud-based, students can use their digital devices to access Pro anytime and anywhere – even without an Internet connection.

Pro offers a library of more than 10,000 nonfiction science and social studies lessons. Each lesson delivers students the grade-level disciplinary knowledge and academic vocabulary they need to succeed across the entire curriculum, tailored to each student’s precise reading level. Lessons give students unmatched access to content-area instruction by providing both a high-interest article on a contemporary topic and an academic background text to unlock understanding, all written at a student’s individual Lexile® reading level. Students then “stretch” their skills by reading a version of the same lesson written with grade-level text complexity, building the stamina and strength they need for the Georgia Milestones assessments. Plus, with new lessons added weekly, the program’s standards-aligned strategic curriculum gives educators both the content-area topics and literacy scaffolds needed to help students with reading strategy development, building the academic vocabulary, critical-thinking skills, and evidence-based writing abilities needed for college and career readiness.

“We have a long-standing track record of accelerating reading gains for all students,” said Dodelson. “This marks our 15th school year in meeting kids one-on-one, at their individual reading levels, and preparing them for college and career success. We’re thrilled that Muscogee County district leaders have expanded the use of Achieve3000 so we can continue to show the positive and dramatic impact our solutions have on student learning outcomes.”

Material from a press release was used in this report.


Is a virtual education the future for K-12 students?

Modern technology connects us and allows communities to share resources in unprecedented ways. Virtual education leverages these connections to provide everyone, regardless of geographic location, access to experts and high quality learning experiences. As technology has improved, virtual education has evolved to become a tool that helps close gaps in high schools and colleges.

Quality online learning programs provide rigorous curriculum, meaningful teaching resources, and access to specialized programs, such as industry training for students, schools and teachers.

Better Career and Technical Education

I believe access to specialized programs will be transformative. Virtual learning will play a major role in the career and technical education space by increasing access to qualified instructors and by improving the knowledge base of all educators. Exposure to hands-on, lab-based learning experiences will improve students’ ability to think critically.

Better Focus on CBE and CBL

As competency-based and personalized learning approaches continue to evolve, I hope to see a greater focus on a holistic approach to learning that relies less on “when” or “where” students learn and more on “what” and “how” they do. Both online and face-to-face teachers will be empowered to use technology tools to understand each student’s specific challenge areas and embrace technology to help students fill content knowledge gaps in an efficient and engaging manner.

(Next page: More virtual education benefits)


14 trailblazing educators you should follow on Twitter

Social media plays a large role in today’s society, and most educators aren’t scared to jump in and leverage Twitter, Facebook and other social networks to increase their professional learning networks.

In fact, regular Twitter chats that focus on professional development, resources for students, special educations, and myriad other educational topics can do wonders for teacher morale.

But as great as Twitter is, it also can be overwhelming. Who should you follow? How often should you tweet? Which chats should you participate in, and how frequently?

In a nutshell, you want to use hashtags with every tweet to help build up your Twitter community and find related tweets. It’s OK to lurk in Twitter chats before jumping into the discussion. And while you won’t always agree with every opinion you find on Twitter, you’re guaranteed to learn from your colleagues when you have respectful discussions. (For more tips on getting started with Twitter PLNs, click here.)

(Next page: 14 educators and thought leaders to follow on Twitter)


App of the Week: Extension for learning outside the classroom

Ed. note: App of the Week picks are now being curated by the editors of Common Sense Education, which helps educators find the best ed-tech tools, learn best practices for teaching with tech, and equip students with the skills they need to use technology safely and responsibly. Click here to read the full app review.

What’s It Like? 

DocentEDU is a Chrome extension (with companion iOS and Android apps) that lets teachers turn any site into an interactive online lesson. There’s a free trial available, but extensive use will require the paid version. (That being said, it’s one of those tools that some teachers can use every day.) DocentEDU can be loaded quickly by the user clicking on the browser extension icon and opening the toolbar. Once the toolbar pops up, teachers and students can add annotations, embed videos into websites, add maps, quizzes, discussions, and do much more. Ultimately, the goal is that teachers can guide student learning with questions or class discussions online so students can learn outside the classroom and teachers can help the next day in class.

Price: Free to try, paid for more

Grades: 6-12

Rating: 4/5

Pros: Useful for any classroom where critical reading is key; lets teachers break website reading into manageable sizes.

Cons: Teacher dashboard could give more diagnostics, and feedback from teachers could be strengthened.

Bottom line: A potential go-to tool for teachers focused on building critical reading skills, especially those in Chromebook classrooms.


3 ways to keep education innovation alive at your school

[Editor’s note: This piece was originally published here on the Clayton Christensen Institute’s blog.]

One of the core ideas of the Christensen Institute’s research on innovation is that technologies improve over time to better meet the needs of the people they serve. For example, early smartphones supported only basic apps such as email and web browsing; but, over time, these devices have added functionality to support a huge variety of apps that have dramatically changed how people communicate, work, travel, and seek entertainment.

In education, however, we often don’t see this kind of steady progress. Rick Hess has described how education reform efforts often come and go in cycles without fundamentally changing the fabric of education or producing substantial improvement. And when it comes to technology-focused efforts, Larry Cuban has documented how, over the last century, schools embraced new technologies with great fanfare, only to discover later that the technologies did not deliver on their promised improvements.

Blended learning provides a fresh opportunity for education to break past these cycles of change without progress. But if it isn’t managed properly, then blended learning could fall into the same trap as other ideas that have gone before it. Recently, my colleagues Julia Freeland Fisher and Michael Horn wrote a paper that describes how education research needs to change in order to unlock advances in the field.

In line with their insights, below are a few noteworthy efforts to ensure that blended learning and other innovations in education continue to make progress in producing improved student outcomes.

1. TLA’s measurement agenda
At iNACOL’s recent Symposium, I participated in a session on measurement where Saro Mohammad laid out The Learning Accelerator’s vision for improving research on blended learning. Recognizing that there are still many gaps in the body of research on blended learning, TLA is working to improve measurement tools, develop more research, and disseminate those findings and developments to the field. The recent report, Measurement Agenda for Blended Learning, details TLA’s efforts to do this and describes the roles that researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and others can play to improve the collective understanding of effective blended-learning implementation. The research agenda that TLA lays out is critical for ensuring that blended learning improves to fulfill its potential. Without research to test and verify what works, blended and personalized learning are just persuasive educational philosophies.

(Next page: Education innovation longevity efforts 2-3)


Report warns a decline in language learning could spell bad news for U.S.

A diminishing share of United States residents speak languages other than English–a trend that could have important consequences for business, international affairs, and intellectual exchange, according to a new report from American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The Academy’s new report, The State of Languages in the U.S.: A Statistical Portrait, summarizes the nation’s current language capacity, focusing on the U.S. education system. A joint venture of the Academy’s Commission on Language Learning and Humanities Indicators, the report draws on the most recent national, state, and local data sources available to draw a more complete picture of language use in the nation.

“This very important work is ongoing and we look forward to the Commission’s final report and recommendations that will be available in February [2017],” said Jonathan F. Fanton, president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The report estimates that only 20 percent of U.S. residents can speak a language other than English, and it highlights data showing how quickly facility in a language other than English fades in immigrant households, even among those who immigrated to the U.S. as children.

Next page: Important implications for U.S. language learning


5 critical considerations for CBE and CBL implementation

As schools begin to invest in competency-based education (CBE) and higher ed institutions set up competency-based programs, two of the big questions often unanswered become “is their focus on education or on learning?” And “what’s the difference?”

Educators can argue that the characteristics of CBE call for increased attention to learning: clearly defined competencies, flexible time structures for competency mastery, and teacher and faculty roles for mentoring learners, to name a few.

But to what extent is academic culture, even in CBE programs, actually changing to be more learner-centric? How often are educational business decisions made with clear consideration of learners’ perspectives? Are academic credentials simply assumed to represent relevant learning, or do they actually document and verify competencies with evidence of learning? Are we meeting the needs of lifelong learners?

flipped classroom

1. First and Foremost, Focus on Learning

How do we get from educational “business as usual” to cultural changes, even transformation, that make learning central? We need to understand that it’s not just about us, the academics.

Learning outcomes, which can be represented as competencies and credentials, have value for stakeholders in ecosystems within and beyond academia: learners, employers, government and policy officials, economic development professionals, academic leaders and administrators, faculty and curriculum specialists, accreditors and quality assurance entities, to name a few.

Stakeholders who determine the value to credentials and competencies are more concerned with competency-based learning (CBL), which is a broader concept than CBE. CBL refers to learners’ acquisition of knowledge, skills, and abilities in any context, whether or not it is part of an educational program or happens in a formal educational setting.

Focusing on learning achievements, regardless of context, fosters innovations that are not constrained by traditional educational models or the difficulties of changing these models. Empowering learners and enabling them to achieve their lifelong learning goals are at the heart of CBL, and modifying educational practices (CBE) should be a servant to this end.

Today’s adult learners face the challenges of constantly changing social, economic, and employment contexts. Most will experience dramatic swings in local and national economic trends, and they’ll witness entirely new industries and career paths emerge while others collapse. No one can assume a stable career. We all need to learn how to learn.

How well do our current educational structures support these circumstances? Short answer: not very well. Is CBE the silver bullet? Short answer: no. Can a focus on CBL help? Short answer: yes.

Joi Ito (Director of the MIT Media Lab) makes a useful distinction between education and learning: “Education is what people do to you and learning is what you do for yourself.” The proliferation of innovative online learning opportunities reflects not only the needs of a changing society, but also the universal desire to learn continuously. Khan, MOOCs, boot camps, career academies, even what is seen as enrollment “swirl” in community college courses reflect the demand for just-in-time, just-enough learning, often focused on achieving specific competencies.

CBL approaches to academic innovation can help define new structures that combine fundamental values of education with the opportunities of a learning-hungry world.


2. Start with Backward Design

Competencies are the starting point for defining learning pathways that lead to well-defined achievements. Start with a valid, relevant competency set that reflects what learners should know and be able to do. (For analysis of what makes competencies and credentials valid and relevant, see Quality Dimensions for Connected Credentials.) It could be a large, comprehensive set, like AAC&U’s LEAP VALUE rubrics, or a concise, targeted set, like Engineering Graphics.

Also, define assessments that provide valid evaluation of learners’ competency mastery, including the specific criteria that assessors will use to consistently determine levels of mastery (typically with rubrics). Curate, create, and compile learning activities and resources that will help learners achieve mastery. These could be stand-alone activities and resources (as is often the case with just-in-time learning), and/or structured learning pathways. Curate the combination of competencies, assessments, and learning resources based on the needs of your target learners. This is backward design, starting with a focus on defining the desired learning outcomes. These are the fundamentals of a CBL foundation.

(Next page: CBE and CBL implementation tips 3-5)


6 ways to improve PD in STEM for every grade level

High-quality instruction in STEM requires both teaching expertise and content knowledge. Yet, at the elementary school level, many teachers haven’t had any specialized education or training in science, leaving them at a loss for PD in STEM.

At the secondary level, studies show that about 33 percent of middle school math and science teachers and 30 percent of high school chemistry and physics teachers didn’t major in these fields and haven’t earned a certificate to teach them.

In 2014, Hillsborough County Public Schools and Polk County Public Schools received a three-year $4.5 million Math-Science Partnership Grant from the Florida Department of Education. Working in partnership with the University of South Florida, the purpose of our grant project, Accelerating Maximum Potential in STEM (AMP-STEM), is to increase teachers’ PD in STEM through content knowledge and their ability to create high-quality, standards-based, integrated STEM lessons for grades 3-12.

AMP-STEM has three components: Summer Institutes, STEM Certification Courses, and STEM Writer Academies.

Our teachers across all grade levels have made great strides in developing their STEM content knowledge and teaching skills. We’ve also learned a few PD in STEM lessons along the way. Here are a few:

1. Take a constructivist approach.

In traditional “sit and get” PD, it’s easy to overwhelm teachers with content or pedagogy. Instead, we conduct PD within a constructivist framework to actively engage and challenge teachers to think at higher levels. By modeling, and involving teachers in, best practices in STEM, we’re increasing their ability to apply these practices in their own classrooms.

(Next page: PD in STEM tips 2-6)


In the marketplace: Funding for active learning, a helping hand for innovative programs, and an interactive book program

Tech-savvy educators know they must stay on top of the myriad changes and trends in education to learn how teaching and learning can best benefit from technology’s near-constant change.

Check below for the latest marketplace news to keep you up-to-date on product developments, teaching and learning initiatives, and new trends in education.

ClassLink, a provider of single sign-on and rostering solutions for education, announced a new relationship with Istation, an e-learning program. This relationship will provide millions of educators and students with secure OneClick access to Istation, enabling faster, easier access to one of education’s most trusted providers. Read more.

To fill a reading gap and encourage families in all communities to foster their children’s literacy development beyond the school day, Scholastic announced the launch of My Books Every Day, a collection of high-quality, take-home book packs with interactive activities for students in grades PreK–3. Read more.

Steelcase Education launched the third annual Active Learning Center Grant cycle, a program that provides modern and flexible classroom redesigns to schools across the United States, Canada and Mexico. The new classrooms will be awarded to innovative schools who show a commitment to fostering student engagement, creativity and success. All grades 6-12, community colleges, four-year colleges and universities are encouraged to apply. Read more.

ClassDojo announced a major new growth milestone: 90 percent of K-8 schools in the U.S. have joined, making it the most used communication app in K-8 classrooms. Used throughout the day as a place for teachers, parents and students to connect and share important moments, ClassDojo has quickly become a way schools across the country are building positive classroom communities. Read more.

When school leaders rethink what new, innovative schools should look like, it is important they implement models that not only fit their vision, but also support students’ academic needs. To help guide schools through this process, the Colorado Department of Education approved the formation of Colorado Digital Board of Cooperative Education Service to act as an online and blended learning expert. Read more.

Middlebury Interactive Languages has been named an approved provider of academic resources for English Language Learners (ELL) in the Houston Independent School District.   Middlebury Interactive will offer Houston ISD schools a blended approach for ELL instruction based on an academically-rigorous language immersion pedagogy, designed with a strong focus on culture and academic English. Read more.