Elkin City Schools (ECS) is my home. It’s a small district, located near the North Carolina border, with three schools and about 1,200 students. It’s a small, tight-knit community full of passionate leaders, dedicated teachers, and inspired learners. We rank considerably well in the state almost entirely across the board. We’re ranked 7th or better for ELA in grades 3-7. We’re also 10th in the state for ACT scores, 12th for high school math, 8th for English II instruction, and we’re 3rd in the state for biology.
As a small district, we’re proud to be recognized among the top academic school systems in North Carolina. Despite our strong academic standing within the state, however, we know there’s always room for growth. At the end of the day, we want to be number 1 in all areas. Attaining this goal comes down to two factors: 1) the people we have in place that deliver the instruction and 2) the apps and tools they’re using to differentiate lessons and embrace our support of the whole child.
I believe ECS’s teachers are one of our greatest assets. But determining if we’re using the best piece of technology for every student in every instance has often been a challenge.
Edtech is a crucial aspect of the vision we have for our students: to “ignite the desire to learn in every student by providing them a unique, varied, and authentic learning experience.” This is directly tied to the technology our students are exposed to. We’re constantly asking ourselves, “Does this tool ignite the desire to learn? How is it unique? Varied? Authentic?” These are the questions that matter to our administration because they matter to teachers and the learners who we want to prepare for lifelong success.
Getting the right data to go deep
Understanding the impact of our digital solutions is where our edtech management system, LearnPlatform, plays a key role. Before we purchased the platform, people on the curriculum side and the technology side wanted and needed to know which edtech tools were being used, what we were paying for, and what was actually working for our students.
We knew there were a lot of free apps that teachers swore were responsible for raising test scores and lots of others that I believed were actually hindering results. Without any real data to support these beliefs, decision making was a challenge. How do you decide what to purchase, what to get rid of, and what to use for a particular set of students without any evidence to back you up? It was just a guessing game at that point.
LearnPlatform helped us take control of our edtech management district-wide. It gave us a lot of the data we needed to support our edtech decisions, with regard to budgets and classroom use. We believed in tools like Discovery Ed, IXL Math, and Star Reading and felt they were driving academic achievement for many of our students. With an edtech management system in place, we were able to see real analytics behind their use and justify the costs associated with each of them.
To be able to streamline our edtech use and to be able to support and find out where our money was being spent—and how wisely it was being spent—were huge benefits, primarily for a district our size. Obviously, we want tools that complement the skills and content being taught to hopefully raise test scores, but that’s not enough. We need to make sure we’re buying and using edtech that is unique and provides authentic learning experiences.
There are a lot of programs out there, free and paid, that can claim to raise a test score. But at the end of the day, we don’t believe that’s what it’s all about. We want tools that differentiate instruction and embrace the whole child to help prepare our students for success both within and outside of the classroom.
We also need to be sure the products we support are being used with fidelity. That doesn’t just mean sign-in logs or a timesheet either. We need to have visibility into the number of edtech products being used across our schools, who among our students and teaching staff are accessing and using these products, and how often they’re being used.
The more information we have, the better we can support budgetary decisions. At one time, that didn’t seem possible. But again, we’ve been able to generate all of this information through LearnPlatform. It’s also had an incredible impact on our teacher request workflows. Today, anyone who wants to pilot a new program or try a great new edtech tool they’ve heard about can easily submit a request through the platform for review and approval. It’s made things simpler and more efficient for everyone.
At the end of the day, we want to allow our staff to get the most out of their edtech and ensure that tools are relevant to content standards. We want to help them make informed decisions when they try, buy, and measure classroom technology. And most importantly, we want to be able to verify, with concrete data, that the products we’re using are working for our students.
Bottom line, if we’re not getting student learning out of a product, we’re not going to purchase it or continue paying for it. That’s what matters most and that’s the benefit of having a district-wide edtech management system. Today, we have the ability to show data that supports our decisions with evidence, and that’s truly invaluable. It’s helped the administration, our teaching staff, and our students tremendously.