Measuring Value

Measuring Value

Education leaders ask: What are the results of using technology in the classroom?

Buying a laptop computer for every student: About $1,000

Hiring a consultant to teach teachers how to use laptops in lessons:

Roughly $1,500/day

Watching students use technology to draw conclusions something they wouldn't

normally be able to do:

Priceless

Administrators nationwide, vendors and business leaders gathered at the Consortium of School Networking's 11th annual K-12 School Networking Conference in Arlington, Va., in March, focusing on Measuring the Value of Education Technology.

Sessions addressed the future of education, digital schools and one-on-one computing initiatives, all issues that many districts are still struggling with.

Other sessions reiterated the need to pump up professional development so teachers could use technology more effectively and to integrate more technology in class so it's not simply another subject. CoSN's Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Seymour Papert noted during his acceptance speech that the word "technology" should not even be separated anymore from educational goals. The time has come to use technology the way pencils were once used, as a tool that students could not learn without.

Now is not the time to ask the community to be patient with schools, to give them time to study the value of their initiatives, some educators agree. It's time to act.

Quantifying Results

C. Jackson Grayson Jr., chairman and CEO of American Productivity & Quality Center, explained during one session that in order to improve achievement in school or change outcomes, educators must focus on the processes behind what they do, whether it be dealing with food services, teaching or curriculum development. What is the process behind an administrative task? How do you teach? The idea is to start from the beginning, which gives administrators a framework.

And it's also important that educators and policy makers not lose the idea that public schools are in crisis so improvements can continue to be made, said Grayson, who is also director of APQC's Education Initiative.

To move from spending $4 per student for technology per year to $250 per student, which covers professional development, hardware and software, the Kershaw County School District in South Carolina had to ensure the community believed it was the "right thing to do," according to Superintendent Herbert Berg, another presenter at the conference. Moving to a one-to-one computer initiative last year for students has had "fantastic results," he said.

In January 2005, every high school freshman was given a Hewlett-Packard laptop that was theirs for four years. District leaders are still assessing the value of computers and asking, what is the real impact? But so far, students are attending school 3 percent more frequently since the initiative started, he said. "More interest in education is another" result, Berg noted. "And there is better connectivity to the families. You can't evaluate this using dollars and numbers. These are kind of right-brain issues."

Tech Assessment

For the first time last fall, Scarsdale Public Schools, a suburb outside New York City, conducted an assessment of technology in its schools under the Tri-State Evaluation Model, according to Gerald Crisci, director of technology. Scarsdale schools are part of the Tri-State Consortium, which is comprised of high achieving school districts in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut that in part evaluate each other's programs and those programs' impact on student achievement, from foreign language to math. But Scarsdale is the first district in the consortium to use it for technology. And district leaders found that it's difficult to measure how technology affects student achievement, Crisci explains.

Questions to ask: What is technology's impact on how teachers teach? How does technology change teaching?

Crisci says the better questions to ask are: what is technology's impact on how teachers teach, or how does it change teaching? The answers lie in how teachers create or deliver lessons, or what students are using, in terms of resources, to answer problems.

"You have to look at the nature of student work and how it has changed," Crisci says. "Could they be doing what they're doing now without the use of technology?"

If the answer is yes, then there is little or no impact. But if those students are using software tools to draw conclusions and analyze information, something they could not do without the technology, there is great benefit, Crisci says.

Angela Pascopella is senior features editor.


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