New Ways to Identify Struggling Students

A South Carolina district looks at more data to keep kids on track

By: Tara García Mathewson
Original Post from The Hechinger Repor

Adults in a school generally know the names of the most at-risk students. Those having the hardest time academically or emotionally stand out.

In Richland School District 2 in suburban Columbia, South Carolina, Erin Armstrong says if students are ranked according to risk, the top 10 to 15 names will be familiar. Those students are the ones who appear in the office all the time. They’re getting in trouble.

“The numbers 15 to 30,” Armstrong said, “those are the ones who are falling through the cracks.”

Armstrong, the lead teacher for virtual education in the district, has taken a leading role in developing a new system for making sure all students get the attention they need.

Five years ago, if teachers or administrators wanted to identify the struggling students they might be missing, they would have had to spend hours combing through spreadsheets, piecing together risk profiles. Now, a software program does that automatically, tracking dozens of factors related to student performance, attendance and behavior, and updating risk levels for every student monthly. Importantly, all the adults in the building have access to this information and they can add their own notes about students so that new insights are shared. Every time someone intervenes with a student and tries something to get or keep that child on track, it’s logged.

That’s a big change from how things happened before. Armstrong said the district is full of people who care deeply about serving students at risk of failing or dropping out. But five years ago, everyone was working alone.

“Things were happening in silos,” Armstrong said. “Nobody was talking to anybody.”

The new system breaks down the silos and creates opportunities for conversation that never existed before. It also makes sure any patterns in the data are brought to light. If something like bus discipline seems to correlate strongly with academic performance, bus discipline will be a factor that gets closer attention. That wasn’t the case five years ago, when educators were in the dark about all but the most obvious correlations between behavior and outcomes.

So far, the district uses it in all 20 of its elementary schools, where getting and keeping students on grade level is imperative so that students don’t get held back in third grade. In South Carolina, the state mandates third-grade retention for kids who are behind. This spring, the district’s seven middle schools will have to use the system, too, and next year, the five high schools will follow suit, if they haven’t already.

Armstrong looks forward to the districtwide implementation and its potential to keep even more kids on track. In elementary school, in many ways, it’s easier because class sizes are smaller and kids spend almost their entire day with the same teacher. In middle school, when students start switching classes each period, and in high school, where truancy increases (at least in Richland 2), Armstrong has seen the risks grow. Giving teachers and administrators a tool to keep track of students better will pressure them to use it, she said.

Marjie Rehlander, a school psychologist at Westwood High School in the district, is a member of the original team advocating this comprehensive intervention and risk management system. She finds its ability to find patterns in the district’s own student data to be powerful.

“It broadens our ideas about how to identify students with risk and how to be more prescriptive in our interventions,” Rehlander said.

It also alerts teachers and administrators to problem behaviors sooner than they might have noticed them on their own, which makes a difference when trying to offer a course correction. Rehlander said one student was on track for graduation, but her attendance started to suffer. The software identified her early, but she wasn’t on any staff member’s radar because she was otherwise on track. A simple phone call home, however, unearthed information that made the need for an intervention clear, and school staff could step in and keep her on her path toward graduation.

Rehlander expects the new system to be responsible for many more stories like that in the years to come.

This story about struggling students was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for theHechinger newsletter.

Unused: Instructional Software's Dark Secret

By: Kipp Bentley
Original Post from Center for Digital Education

A new report shows that almost 98 percent of the software and apps purchased by some school districts are never fully used by students.

A recent report from the Penn Center for Learning Analytics, funded by BrightBytes, a K-12 data and learning analytics company, offers a glimpse into U.S. schools and their students’ use of instructional software and applications. The report’s findings should give pause to any school leader responsible for purchasing instructional applications.

I recommend reading a Hechinger Report article for its overview of the Penn Center work, which included these findings: Of the 48 school districts whose data was used in the analysis, it was found that a median of 97.6 percent of their apps weren’t used to their intended levels, and 70 percent of their districts’ student app licenses weren’t used at all.

I’ve written before about the flawed processes school districts frequently employ to make instructional software purchasing decisions, and I’ve been guilty of leading such selection processes that weren’t based on solid research or adequately inclusive of teacher input. I’ve also fallen short on evaluating usage data once the applications were purchased and implemented. So I’m not too surprised by the report’s findings, and believe they may partially explain why educational technology isn’t paying the dividends in students’ academic growth that many of its champions have hoped for. But there’s more to it than that.

I see four major components that contribute to the Penn Center’s findings on the marked underuse and ineffectiveness of instructional software and applications in schools:

1. Lack of research. Frequently, districts’ software and application purchasing decisions are made without the benefit of unbiased research on the products’ effectiveness. This happens because either good research exists but is overlooked by the districts’ purchasing authorities, or because unbiased research, not funded by the application’s parent company, hasn’t been conducted. Addressing this issue, a new group out of the University of Virginia, The Jefferson Education Exchange (JEX), is working to conduct and promote rigorous educational technology research. Additionally, JEX is committed to including strong teacher input in the JEX review and evaluation processes.

2. Lack of teacher input and investment. Too often, digital resources are purchased by school districts on their teachers’ behalf, but without adequate teacher input. It’s no small feat for districts to get a significant number of teachers meaningfully involved in the software evaluation and selection processes and to also have them field-test the applications in their classrooms with students. But, unfortunately, the alternative solutions may lead to the kind of low-use issues identified in the Penn Center report.

3. Lack of ongoing teacher support. It’s important that teachers’ use of purchased software and applications are well-supported by instructional content-area experts. However, “buy it and they will come” is a common unwritten theme in districts’ software deployment strategies. But this approach is rarely successful, even when good research and teacher input drive the purchasing decisions. Teachers need support — both initially and over time — to determine why and how they should incorporate new digital resources into their instruction. Some especially recalcitrant teachers may also require the encouragement of their supervisors to ensure they get on board.

4. District-wide licensing issues. Buying district-wide or volume licenses is an expensive proposition. Even though school district leaders know the applications won’t get used by all teachers in all schools, they nonetheless go ahead and buy volume licenses. And they do this because the vendor makes bulk license pricing especially attractive, or to ensure all schools get equal treatment, or perhaps because it’s just the easiest thing to do. But going this route, for whatever reason, guarantees many licenses will lie fallow. And considering the 70 percent unused license figure from the Penn Center report, districts must find better ways to allocate their resources, and also pay closer attention to their applications’ usage data.   

The Penn Center’s report reveals some uncomfortable truths for many school districts investing in educational technology applications. But these findings will hopefully prompt districts to hit the “pause” button on further purchases; to reconsider their application selection, implementation and data monitoring procedures; and determine what they must do to improve their practices.


3 lessons from data on how students are actually using educational apps and software at school

Teachers and students aren't using all the pricey software that school budgets buy, researchers say

By: Jill Barshay
Original Post from Hechinger Report

rightBytes Inc. is a for-profit company that sells data analysis to public schools. One of its products monitors which websites students visit and which apps they’re clicking on their tablets. The company’s marketing pitch is that it can tell school administrators what educational software is actually being used, how much they’re spending on it and whether the ed tech they’re buying is boosting student performance — the education sector’s version of “return on investment.”

It’s not perfect. A lot of computer usage isn’t captured, especially at home. Higher test scores could be caused by things other than the online software like great teaching. Despite these drawbacks, the company has an interesting repository of technology usage from roughly 400,000 students, kindergarten through high school, across 26 states. (Yes, even kindergarteners are using apps at school.) The company hired Ryan Baker, director of the Penn Center for Learning Analytics, and another data scientist to mine the data and create a national snapshot of technology use for the 2017-18 school year. A report was released in November 2018.

Baker began by calculating how much each student improved on standardized assessments between the fall of 2017 and the spring of 2018 in both math and reading. (In addition to the annual state test each spring, many schools administer additional assessments throughout the year to track progress.) They had enough test score data to analyze roughly 150 of the 2,500 education apps in the marketplace.

Here are the takeaways:

1. Most software is drastically underused by schools

Although some apps are designed to be used daily or for many minutes each week, most aren’t used very often. Even the most intensely used app in the study, Carnegie Learning’s digitalACE, was used fewer than 32 days and for a total of 804 minutes, on average. That’s less than a half hour a week. The vast majority of the apps were used for fewer than seven days during the school year and less than 200 minutes in total.

Another way of expressing underuse is to look at software licenses that schools buy. (Sometimes each student needs a license but often multiple students can share a license.)  Some 70 percent of the licenses schools purchased weren’t used by anyone, Baker found.  Among the licenses that were used, most were used for fewer than 10 hours during the school year.

“Talk to teachers,” said Baker. “Pay attention to what your teachers are actually using. I think there’s a lot of cases where someone in the district thinks it’s a good idea and so they buy it for everybody. And most of the teachers don’t want anything to do with it.”

Baker says teachers are “smart” not to assign software to students if they themselves haven’t received enough training on how to use it well.

For some apps, however, Baker found that more licenses were used than the school purchased. That’s an indication that teachers are independently selecting their own apps and assigning free versions of them to students but the school hasn’t purchased premium access.

Calculating financial waste is tricky. The price of licenses ranged from 14 cents to $367. Schools often buy many of them.  Some of the most expensive ones were purchased by high schools for credit recovery, which gives students a second chance to pass classes that they failed, and to provide Advanced Placement courses that are not offered at a school.

2. More upside potential for math, less in reading

The researchers found a correlation between rising math scores and more time spent on the software but the correlation was tiny. Among the sites or apps showing the strongest correlations between usage and math scores were ALEKS, Wikipedia, LearnZillion, DreamBox, Seesaw and Starfall. However, certain online programs were conspicuously missing from BrightBytes’s list, such as ASSISTments, a free math program that has performed well in randomized-controlled trials.  It’s designed for homework but BrightBytes’s technology for monitoring use primary captured activity at schools.

In reading, a positive association between online activity and learning improvements was less common. Indeed, when the researchers compared reading test score gains across all the apps students used, there was no overall correlation at all. Students were just as likely to post the same reading test score gain regardless of the amount of time they spent learning online. That echoes more rigorous scientific research that has consistently found better outcomes for some math software but not in reading.

It would be a mistake to conclude from this study that online software is producing any test score gains. The kids who are assigned to use software more might be in classrooms with better teachers and it could be the human teachers who are producing the learning gains, not the apps and websites. It’s also possible that the kinds of students who use educational software the most are more motivated learners and would have had higher test scores even without software. A study that compares the test score gains with those of similar kids who didn’t use the software would be more conclusive. This study didn’t do that.

However, correlations like these send out important signals. “The fact that we’re not seeing a lot of correlations is a sign that the systems aren’t being used effectively or they’re not effective,” said Baker. “There are a lot of systems out there that do well in controlled settings, but they don’t do so well in the real world because of issues like teacher training or teachers choosing not to use the system.”

Not all reading apps were useless. Of the more than 100 apps and sites analyzed, some were associated with higher reading scores. Among the top one were Varsity Tutors, LearnZillion, Wikipedia, Brainingcamp, Google Classroom and TED-Ed. In the case of LearnZillion, higher test score gains were associated with both the number of days students logged in and the total time spent on the app.

Sometimes frequency mattered more than minutes. For example, students who visited Varsity Tutors more frequently had higher reading scores. But it didn’t matter how much time they spent on the app, which connects real humans to students via video for 1-to-1 tutoring sessions. With other apps, frequently visiting a site sometimes was associated with lower test scores. But spending a lot of time on a particular topic seemed to be beneficial.

3. Wikipedia pops to the top

Note that the lists of top apps include several free ones. That too confirms other research which has found that cheap can be effective. But it was odd to see Wikipedia listed among the top three apps for both reading and math achievement.  Perhaps it’s a sign that educational software is so ineffective that even an crowd-sourced encyclopedia can do better!

“The second biggest surprise of the whole investigation was how well Wikipedia did,” said Baker. “The word ‘app’ is a misnomer in this case. Wikipedia has a lot of mathematics definitions.”

Students might be looking up terms they don’t understand during a math lecture. Some Wikipedia entries have examples of how to do calculations, such as adding fractions or figuring out the slope of a line. The explanations are extremely sophisticated, quickly heading into college-level math, so it’s likely that the brightest students are best able to take advantage of it.

It’s another example of how technology use at schools might be helping the best and the brightest to surge ahead. That’s good for motivated students, but it could also increase the achievement gap.

Why Teachers Don't Use The Software The District Paid For

By: Patrick Greene
Original Post from Forbes

Ryan Baker (University of Pennsylvania's Center for Learning Analytics) unleashed a small surprise last month with a report indicating that the vast amount of software licenses purchased by school districts are simply never used. There are points on which we might quibble, including the smallish sample size of districts (48) and the very small sample size of data management companies (1). But the results still feel correct, and worthy of discussion. Schools spend a great deal of money on software that is barely used, if at all. Why does that happen?

Thomas Arnett at the Christensen Institute took a stab at explaining all that unused software, using the Institute's Jobs To Be Done Theory. We could call it Perceived Utility or Does This Actually Help Me, but the idea is simple. Teachers have an idea of what their job is, and they will evaluate software based on whether or not it helps do the job.

Arnett's team talked to teachers and uncovered three "jobs" that they believed were relevant:

Job #1: Lead way in improving my school.

Job#2: Find ways to engage and challenge more students.

Job #3: Replace broken instructional model so I can reach each student.

Software rarely helps with the first, can occasionally help with the second and might help with the third, says Arnett. I'm not so sure. It's hard to believe that in 2018, we still have folks who think a computer program will be engaging just because it's a computer program. But students are no more excited about computers than they are about pens.

On top of that, software has a very short interest life. In the last decade of teaching, I repeatedly saw the short lifespan of cool new apps play out with my students. First the new app is discovered, then it's shared, then everybody has to use it every day, then it loses its shine, then we're on to the next one. That process generally plays out in two-to-four weeks.  The odds that software that is engaging in September will still be engaging in May, or even December, are slim-to-none.

Arnett's basic insight is sound; teachers don't use software that isn't useful to them, particularly if the time involved in setting it up, getting it to work and getting students comfortable with it is just too big a chunk of the limited teaching time in the year.

There are other issues that Arnett doesn't look at. A huge factor is time--how much will it take the teacher to learn the program, and how much preparation will the program require for use. There are, for instance, programs that allow for game-like quizzing and questioning, but which require hours of physically entering the questions into the program. A good review idea would be to have students write questions on note cards, and then the teacher can enter all of those questions into the program, requiring an hour or two of prep time. Or the teacher can just use the note cards, requiring zero hours of prep time.

The problem at the root of much unused software is the district's procurement process. The surest way to keep software from being used is to keep the teacher--the actual end user--locked out of the procurement process. When the software is purchased by people who aren't going to use it, it almost always turns out not to be useful. As Arnett notes, "A good sales pitch may get a product through the district office's front door," but it won't get the software used in a classroom.

Note: a quick peekaboo session does not fix this. It takes time and use to determine if software is really useful or not. Having teachers "look this over" for an afternoon, or even for a week, is not good enough.

If your district is going to purchase software, it needs to be software that teachers will actually want to use because it helps them do their jobs. The only people who can make that determination about the software is the teachers themselves. If they aren't involved in the procurement process, and if that doesn't include time for training and use of the software, you are wasting a ton of taxpayer dollars on software licenses that will gather a bunch of cyber-dust.

I spent 39 years as a high school English teacher, looking at how hot new reform policies affect the classroom.

There’s a Reason Why Teachers Don’t Use the Software Provided By Their Districts

By: Thomas Arnett
Original Post from Education Next

Earlier this month, education news outlets buzzed with a frustrating, yet unsurprising, headline: Most educational software licenses go unused in K-12 districts. The source of the headline is a recent reportby Ryan Baker, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Learning Analytics. Baker analyzed data from BrightBytes, a K-12 data management company, on students’ technology usage across 48 districts. That data revealed that a median of 70% of districts’ software licenses never get used, and a median of 97.6% of licenses are never used intensively.

The findings unveil a clear disconnect between district software procurement and classroom practice. To be clear, not all software is high quality, which means teachers may have good reason to not adopt some software products that fail to deliver positive student learning outcomes. But for quality software tools that can yield breakthrough student outcomes, underutilization is a huge missed opportunity.

So when districts license high-quality educational software, why might teachers still choose not to use the software at their disposal? Some of our latest research at the Christensen Institute offers answers to this question.

Understanding teachers’ ‘Jobs’

In September, my colleagues and I released a research paper that explains what motivates teachers to change how they teach. Drawing on the Jobs to be Done Theory, we interviewed teachers to discover the ‘Jobs’ that motivate them to adopt blended learning or other new approaches to instruction.

According to the theory, all people—teachers included—are internally motivated to make changes in their lives that move them toward success or satisfaction within their particular life circumstances. The theory labels these circumstance-based desires as ‘Jobs.’ Just as people ‘hire’ contractors to help them build houses or lawyers to help them build a case, people search for something they can ‘hire’ to help them when ‘Jobs’ arise in their lives.

Through our interviews we found four Jobs that often motivate teachers to adopt new practices. Three of these Jobs seem relevant for explaining why licensed software often goes unused.

Job #1: Help me lead the way in improving my school. Teachers with this Job are eager to demonstrate their value as contributors to broader school improvement. These teachers will be interested in using district-licensed software when it 1) seems like a viable and worthwhile way to improve the school as a whole, 2) seems simple and straightforward to share with their colleagues, and 3) offers them an opportunity to help shape the direction of school improvement efforts.

Job #2: Help me find manageable ways to engage and challenge more of my students.Teachers with this Job are generally confident with how teaching and learning happen in their classrooms. But they have a few students each year who they struggle to reach. They are often open to software as a way to engage those students. But that software must not only be worthwhile for their students, but also practical to incorporate into their current practices and routines.

Job #3: Help me replace a broken instructional model so I can reach each student. Whether from perpetually low test scores, low graduation rates, ongoing student behavior issues, or a general sense that learning lacks joy and passion, teachers with this Job struggle constantly with a sense that they aren’t living up to their responsibilities to their students. For these teachers, software can be a powerful resource for helping them transform their instructional models. But that software needs to offer new approaches to teaching and learning, not just new takes on traditional textbooks and worksheets.

Accounting for the 70% of unused software licenses

We suspect that in many cases, quality software goes unused because it either fails to align with teachers’ Jobs or fumbles at delivering a good solution for meeting their Jobs.

For example, teachers who are looking to lead the way in helping their schools improve (Job 1) likely don’t look first to software as a way to fulfill their Job. Their school improvement instincts typically orient them to look for new instructional programs, not silver bullet software. To meet their Job to be Done, software providers need to start by offering an evidence-based set of practices that will help schools improve on key metrics. Then, once they’ve made the case for new instructional methods, they can discuss how software tools help to facilitate those methods.

As another example, teachers in search of manageable ways to engage and challenge more of their students (Job 2) could find a lot of benefit in the multimedia-rich and game-like aspects of many edtech products. But software platforms that are great for engaging students may yet fail to get used because teachers find them hard to incorporate into daily lessons. Software developers, hardware suppliers, and district technology teams all need to consider things they can do to make it easy for teachers to incorporate software into their lesson plans and then manage devices during class.

As a third example, consider a teacher who is frustrated by a sense that he is failing to meet the needs of most of his students because he feels stuck teaching to the nonexistent middle of his class (Job 3). The right software could be a powerful platform for helping him create individual learning pathways and mastery-based progressions that meet each of his students where they are. But if the software available from his district just supplements whole-class, direct instruction, that software won’t fulfill his Job.

Explaining why 97.6% of software licenses are never used intensively

One significant finding from our research illustrates another potential pitfall for software utilization. When new software licenses come down from the district office without clearly communicated benefits for teachers or pedagogical support, many teachers likely take a quick look and conclude that the software doesn’t fulfill any of the first three Jobs for them. Nevertheless, they feel compelled to use the software, at least occasionally, so as to not set a bad tone with their administrators. They do what they need to do to check the appropriate boxes on their teacher evaluation rubrics, but they don’t actually use the software enough for it to make a difference for them and their students. The new Job that the software creates for them amounts to, “Help me not fall behind on my school’s new initiative.” This insight likely explains why even though 30% of software licenses that get used, only 2.4% are used intensively.

In education, money isn’t easy to come by, which makes it especially frustrating to learn that many districts spend money on software that doesn’t get used. The district staff members who make software licensing decisions surely don’t intend for their purchases to go to waste. But yet, as Baker’s report illustrates, there is a disconnect between software purchases and classroom adoption. A good sales pitch may get a product through the district office’s front door. But only by helping teachers fulfill their Jobs can high-quality educational software make it through the classroom door and into the hands of students. In short, software only gets used in classrooms when it meets a Job to be Done for teachers.

Most Educational Software Licenses Go Unused in K-12 Districts

By: Colin Wood
Original Post from EdScoop

Most educational software licenses purchased by K-12 schools are never used, according to research published this week.

Educational software usage data was collected from 48 school districts and more than 390,000 students by a San Francisco-based data company called BrightBytes and then analyzed by a small team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Center for Learning Analytics. The team, led by Associate Professor Ryan S. Baker, found in results published Thursday that a median of 30 percent of software licenses were used by students, while 97.6 percent of licenses were never used “intensely,” a term used to describe at least ten hours of use between assessments.

Baker told EdScoop his advice for schools is that “if they’re not going to use it, they shouldn’t buy. There’s definite overspending going on.” To avoid waste, he recommended schools first ensure any software purchased is being used, and then ensure that it’s effective.

“Ideally, a school district should be using what they buy and how much is it being beneficial,” Baker said. “Maybe you can’t know that in advance, but you certainly can know that a year later.”

Though Baker’s advice may sound obvious, his research shows that even where software licenses are being used, it unlikely they are being benchmarked. Across 1.8 million licenses examined, virtually no correlation was found between how much an app was used and how effective is was found to be.

Some apps were found to be more effective than others. But the point of engagement in the classroom can be disconnected from those in charge of making purchasing decisions, Baker said, citing his own anecdotal experience as a parent.

“A few years ago I remember talking to the person in charge of procurement at my kid’s school,” Baker said. “I said, ‘Why are you using this app? You know, it’s not very good.’ And the guy brushed me off. And I talked to the teacher who said, ‘Oh yeah, we know it’s not very good, so we don’t use it.'”

Similar disparities between expected usage and actual usage can be seen throughout the study. Many educational apps that are intended to be used for large amounts of time were found to be frequently used by a select number of students, while generalized district usage was “fairly low.”

A few licenses were identified as having high proportions (around 90 percent) of their licenses used, including those from Matific, Active Classroom, Canvas, Big Universe and Education City. More than 96 percent of Elevate licenses were found to have been used intensely, while the next closest intense-usage platform was Canvas, at 78 percent.

Districts that are buying edtech and not using it are wasting money, Baker said. On average, each student was found to have five software licenses, and the median cost of a license is $6.79. Costs for intensive users, the study found, can range from a few cents to more than $5,000.

Baker said there are two easy first steps districts can take to fix this: “Find out if you’re actually using what you’re buying, and find out if what you’re actually using is leading to better results.”

When Less Is More: Designing for Education’s Data Overload

By: Hisham Anwar
Original Post from EdSurge

A Toronto-based hospital had a problem. Training scenarios in the emergency room had gone poorly because doctors and nurses talked over each other and gave conflicting directions. Treatments were botched. Patient outcomes suffered.

As sometimes happens within large organizations, the instinct of administrators was to engineer a solution from the top down. But, as it turned out, interviews with ER nurses led them to a faster and less costly solution. They learned that despite their best efforts, there was confusion on the ER floor. Lack of clarity about roles had given rise to conflicting directions and lost time. Armed with this insight, team leaders were simply assigned bright orange vests to indicate that they were in charge.

The problem-solving process deployed by the hospital is referred to as design thinking, a process rooted in empathy that starts with listening. In a way that often feels intuitive to educators, design thinking emphasizes the importance of asking questions and understanding the needs of users and their problems before implementing irrelevant solutions. But in an ironic twist, it is a process that often eludes educators when it comes to informing decisions.

The challenge stems, in part, from what is fast becoming data overload for school and district leaders, who struggle to make sense of data that is siloed, messy, and hard to find.

In recent years, districts have spent millions on the integration of disparate data systems. Interventions and assessments have moved to the cloud. Student information systems track and report on a multiplicity of variables. Most districts can now find granular data on a wide range of metrics from school nutrition to student behavioral patterns and beyond—yet the data overload dilutes actionable insights. So, while districts are often awash in data, they are starved for wisdom.

The blame lies, in part, at the feet of education entrepreneurs, whose instincts led them to serve up volumes of data in search of simple solutions to challenges that eluded educators for years. Rather than ask questions or define problems that schools are actually trying to solve, we have expected our users (e.g., teachers and district leaders with little time to spare) to somehow derive meaning from thousands of data points in a way that relates to their day-to-day challenges and opportunities.

It’s as though we expect the mere presence of data to present solutions. When answers fail to materialize, we start off in search of more or better data, rather than clearly defining the question being asked. And in our obsession to get data systems to “talk to each other,” we’ve lost sight of what we’d actually like them to say.

This is a problem mired in the vestiges of an No Child Left Behind-era accountability paradigm that fixated on the results of high-stakes tests, more so than instructional practice; outcomes, rather than early indicators that might suggest eventual results.

But a growing number of school districts are beginning to flip the script. It’s an approach enabled by the introduction of school quality and success indicators under the Every Student Succeeds Act that have more instructional relevance than NCLB-era mandates and mantras. District and school leaders now balance proficiency scores with other metrics such as chronic absenteeism rates or success indicators (like enrollment in advanced or remedial course offerings) that invite a richer reflection upon the components of a holistic education.

They’re starting not with the provisioning of data, but with defining the questions they are trying to answer. In the process, they’re learning that unlocking the potential of data-driven decisions requires not necessarily more data points, but rather a way to present relevant data to different roles in ways that are accessible and communicable.

In Shelby County Schools in Memphis, Tennessee, school leaders are working to ensure that 80 percent of seniors are ready for college or a career by 2025. This requires that the district work to answer essential questions on teachers’ minds: “What are the unique challenges each student in our district experiences, and how can we objectively detect even the most subtle signs of risk before a student becomes disengaged?”

Using a design-thinking approach, Shelby County’s leaders put into place and mobilized a system directly mapped to answering these questions. Through targeted, real-time data on student performance that is easy for end-users to understand, teachers, principals, and administrators in the district are now better able to identify and intervene with necessary supports early and often.

Making sense of data isn’t easy. But districts like Shelby County are leading the way through design thinking by asking the right questions and defining just what problems they are facing. By letting data inform the answers within those parameters, they are designing impactful solutions that can better serve their students.

School District Issuing Surveys to Complete Picture about Home, Classroom Technology Use

By: Brad Fuqua
Original Post from Philomath Express

The Philomath School District plans to issue surveys to teachers, students and parents from Oct. 10-24 to try to create a complete picture of technology use for learning both in the classroom and at home.

Rob Singleton, the district’s director of instructional technology, said the surveys will be for teachers, students and parents in grades 3-12. The school district will analyze the results to provide targeted services, programs and professional development based on identified needs.

“We need to be able to prepare our students with 21st-century skills that can prepare them for college, training or work because that’s what the future is,” Singleton said. “We need to be able to be more strategic about how we go about that. By that, I mean we need to know where our strengths are and where the gaps are in both our teachers’ understanding and our students’ understanding of where their skills are — not just want they think they know but what they really need to know to be proficient and savvy and safe with all of these tools that we can provide and we use and what they might use.”

The district is conducting the surveys through BrightBytes Technology and Learning, a company that specializes in gathering targeted information through the use of what it identifies as its CASE framework. CASE is an acronym for four areas of evaluation — classroom, access, skills and environment.

Singleton estimated that the survey will take parents five to seven minutes to complete.

“We’re trying to get an idea of what kind of access they have to the internet,” he said. “We think that we might know that all of our kids carry around this little mini computer (cellphone) but that may not be the case and we might be sending digital homework and expecting all of our students to be able to do it through online access or even interfacing with their teacher online … Some of them may not be able to do so; we really don’t have a sense, we haven’t measured that in the community.”

The parent component of the three-pronged survey will serve an important purpose.

“We really want our parents to be part of the solution that we’re trying to come up with and be able to give us feedback about internet usage, access to a device, all of the things that they might need to have access to be successful,” Singleton said.

The teaching component is a big part of the information-gathering effort as Singleton and instructional support staff Jennifer Kessel learn about what they need to focus on to help support educators.

“It’s not like we’re putting a computer down and walking way — not that they did that before, but Jennifer and I throughout this year are going to be meeting with teachers about what are your goals for this lesson and what kind of support can we provide you in the classroom as you try a new technology tool for your kids that might enhance the learning that goes on?” Singleton said. “It doesn’t replace good teaching and the lessons and all of that, but it can add more differentiation so some students will be working at different paces with different content and we want to be in the classroom and supporting those teachers as they’re trying new things with technology.”

Singleton said the surveys all tie into three pillars that the district is focused on — RTI (Response to Intervention), AVID (Achievement Via Individual Determination) and social-emotional learning.

Interoperability Challenge Solved: How Lawrence Public Schools Improved LMS Adoption by 48%

Original Post from Tech & Learning

Many different school districts have the same data challenge. They have data, but it can’t be shared across systems. Educators are often dissatisfied with data management as it requires data to be input multiple times across both the SIS and LMS. For busy teachers this is inefficient and time consuming.

Lawrence (KS) Public Schools had this exact situation. Faculty and staff were frustrated by the inaccessibility and usability of the data to impact student learning. Initially, district leaders turned to their technology team to build an inhouse data integration platform that could connect their LMS to their SIS. After a year of effort, the task force wasn’t able to arrive at a solution.

Their LMS provider recommended the DataSense solution from BrightBytes and within days, the SIS and the gradebook were connected. Integration was seamless and data immediately started moving and updating in real time.

When teachers discovered that they only had to enter data once, LMS usage across the district increased by 48%. DataSense was able to track student movement in classrooms through nightly updates, making changes available to teachers each morning. As adoption rates improved, the district’s culture improved as well. Educators were happy to focus on teaching rather than manual data entry.

Dr. Terry McEwen, director of assessment, research, and accountability for Lawrence Public Schools, said that DataSense, solved multiple data management problems. “It’s more thatn a full-time job to complete the work that DataSense does,” he said. “So, it’s both a time-saver and a money-saver for us.”

In fact, DataSense has been so successful in changing data practices that district leaders have audited other data programs to identify additional areas where DataSense could improve efficiency and provide insights for instruction and student learning.

As they look to the future, district leaders hope to add additional systems onto the DataSense platform so they can decrease human interactions with data and minimize the potential for human error.

Watch this video to see the power of data interoperability in Lawrence (KS) Public Schools or read the case study here.

New Software Aims to Track Struggling SCS Students, Identify What Helps

By: Jennifer Pignolet
Original Post from The Memphis Commercial Appeal

As an assistant principal, Velvet Jeter knows the students who are struggling the most at Brownsville Road Elementary. 

The ones who are at a moderate risk of falling behind or developing disruptive behavioral issues, however, sometimes go unnoticed until there are major problems requiring time-consuming and expensive interventions.

A new software system Shelby County Schools is deploying throughout the district this fall aims to identify those students, and for all students receiving an intervention, identify what does and does not help them. 

Often, Jeter said, "we feel like we're giving them the right prescription, but we're not."

"I think it helps you know exactly what is in your building," she said. 

The SCS board approved a contract for nearly $2 million this spring with an education technology company called BrightBytes to implement the new data system for the next three school years. 

School leaders spent this week learning to use the software to identify children who may be at risk for dropping out of school or experiencing other academic delays. 

Chris Graves, the district's senior manager for decision analytics and information management, said the software combines data that teachers already report across the district and pulls it into one place, accessible to the leader of any school. 

In a high-poverty district like SCS, where students frequently change schools, the program allows a teacher to quickly learn about a new student, Graves said.

And instead of just seeing report cards and discipline records, the system rolls together additional data like how often that student was absent or tardy and how they performed on state tests to determine if they are at a low or high risk for falling behind. 

The program uses historical data from across SCS to compare current students' progress with those who have graduated and were considered ready for college.

Too often, Graves said, data across large school districts and even in school buildings is reviewed in silos, and the "whole child" is not considered. 

The system also tracks what interventions have been tried with each student. A child who has failing grades, for example, may struggle most in early classes because of issues with transportation.

The new system would identify that issue and explain what has been done in the past to try to mitigate the problem. 

The question the system ultimately tries to answer, he said, is "What is the support they need to be on track for graduation, to be ready for college?" 

The district has ambitious goals through Destination 2025 to have 80 percent of seniors ready for college or a career, a 90 percent graduation rate, and 100 percent of students who are ready for college or a career enrolled in a post-secondary opportunity. 

The new data system, Graves said, will help the district understand what works and does not work to reach those goals, and can identify common problems or issues that many students face.

For Craigmont High Principal Tisha Durrah, the program is a chance to be proactive about interventions, whether a student needs tutoring, behavioral coaching, emotional support, or weekly reminders about the importance of arriving to school on time. 

On Wednesday, during a training session at Bolton High, she was able to look up the students who will be walking into her building in three weeks. She was already planning how to address her students' needs.

"We can start looking at having parent meetings on the front end," Durrah said.

Second Year of School Financial Information Available on Website

By: Callie Jones, Journal-Advocate News Editor
Original Post from The Journal-Advocate News

Spending of schools and districts featured on easy-to-understand financial transparency web portal

A second full year of financial information is now available on the Financial Transparency for Colorado Schools Website that presents school and district financial information in an easy-to-understand format.

The web portal was launched last year populated with financial data from the 2015-16 school year, the latest available. Now, information has been added from the 2016-17 school year.

Data for RE-1 Valley School District shows the district spent $9,082 per student in 2016-17, slightly below the state average of $10,196 and down from $9,396 in 2015-16. Total spending was $32,475,822, while total funding was at $31,436,583.

Buffalo RE-4J (Merino) School District spent $11,543 per student in 2016-17, its total spending for the year was $3,684,531 and total funding was $3,846,183; Frenchman RE-3 (Fleming) spent $13,130 per student, its total spending was $2,709,095 and total funding was $2,794,981; and Plateau RE-5 (Peetz), spent $18,319 per student, its total spending was $3,117,260 and its total funding was $3,072,908.

The website,, was created in response to legislation that required the state to present financial information for every school district, BOCES and most schools in Colorado. Lawmakers sought a way to provide the public with a deeper understanding of how education dollars are spent in schools, districts and BOCES.

In 2010, House Bill 1036 required districts to post financial information online, including budgets, financial audits, check registers and credit card statements. In 2014, the legislature enhanced that legislation with House Bill 1292 that required each district and BOCES to post financial data so it can be displayed in an easy-to-understand way.

The Colorado Department of Education partnered with BrightBytes®, a San Francisco education analytics firm, to build the website.

In 2017, every district and BOCES in Colorado provided their own data to populate the site. Districts identified as small/rural with fewer than 1,000 students and that had no charter schools were required to post district-level financial information only.

The data is presented in two domains, spending and funding:

• The spending domains show investments classified by three key categories: learning, operations and construction - making it easy to understand how dollars are being allocated.

• The funding domains enable visitors to see funding by local, state and federal sources.

Visitors to the site can compare information at the school-, district- or BOCES-level through a side-by-side view of up to four schools or education organizations at a time. Since its launch on June 30, 2017, the website has garnered 93,818 page visits from a total of 11,656 visitors.

Districts’ Increasingly Sophisticated Use of Data Powers Demand for Company Expertise

As K-12 Schools Look to 2018-19, Data Priorities for the Future Coming Into Focus

By: Michele MolnarAssociate Editor

Original Post from EdWeek Market Brief

School districts are experimenting with more sophisticated uses of data, but still struggling to connect the dots in ways that help pump up student achievement.

That opens the doors for companies that can help schools sort through the confusion. But they need to do so in ways that are effective and easy to understand for teachers,…

Learning Analytics: 9 Startups to Watch in 2018

By: Walter Couture
Original Post from Disruptor Daily

The field of education has progressed far beyond the class testing and grading on the curve of past traditions. With the advance of technology, the goal is now to better understand the individual, how he or she learns best, what context works best, what are her individual challenges and needs, and how will she do in the future.

It's all about personal measurement and analytics that lead, not only to academic performance improvement but also behavioral support, risk identification, intervention and counseling where appropriate.

The use of technology facilitates a personalized learning environment where individual analytics create a model of predictive success or failure. And that environment includes teachers, content, materials, and delivery methods.

It also includes schools, support staff, educational publishers, course designers and anyone else affecting the learning landscape. Analytics are being developed so educational organizations and educators can more effectively design and implement the courses, tools and engagement practices that optimize learning for each student.

Here are some of the learning analytics startups that are using technology to help improve student learning outcomes through advanced data collection and analysis.

Civitas Learning
Founded in 2011 by Charles Thornburgh and Mark Milliron, and based in Austin, Texas, Civitas Learning offers a cloud-based, predictive analytics platform that delivers insights to the frontlines of education.

The goal of Civitas Learning is to help college students graduate by analyzing course loads and by supplying innovative interventions like nudge emails and improved advisory techniques.

The company’s learning platform uses predictive modeling to identify students at risk. It focuses on student engagement, persistence and completion to improve college attendance, retention, and graduation rates.

Founded in 2012 by Rob Mancabelli and Hisham Anwar, BrightBytes provides a SaaS-based data analytics platform to build a modern learning environment, focusing on four basic frameworks that measure the effects of technology in a school.

The company’s analytics model includes classroom evaluation of how teachers and students use technology for learning. It studies the availability of devices and Internet access throughout the school and at home. It measures the skill levels of teachers and students with multimedia. And it evaluates the school culture, professional development, and technology needs across the organization.

BrightBytes customers say it improves the development of multimedia professionals and creates a better learning environment for their students.

Backed by Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and its research on cognitive and learning science, Acrobatiq is a learning optimization company that develops Open Learning Initiative courseware helping higher education students, faculty and organizations deliver measurable improvements in learning outcomes.

Insights developed from student learning data gives educators detailed information on which learners need help and what kind of help.

Learning analytics capture and model both behavioral data (i.e. page views, logins, etc.) and learning data from students’ performances to generate real-time predictive learning estimates for each student.

Discover the rest at The Daily Disruptor.

How Learning Analytics Can Make Your Teaching More Effective

Original Post from Go Pollock

As technology continues to evolve and become an integral part of our everyday lives, it’s only natural that we utilize the technology to improve education as well. One aspect of technology that promises to make this a reality is the use of analytics in the classroom to help refine the learning experience for students.

We recently completed edX’s course ‘Analytics for the Classroom Teacher’, which offered many insights into the intricacies of using technology and analyzing the data to fine-tune the teaching and learning experience. There are two main categories of analytics used for educational purposes. Teaching analytics analyzes the teaching design by looking at the your lesson plans and reflecting on how effective that is for the student learning experience. Learning analytics collects and measures student data and analyzes how the you can refine the learning experience to make it more effective for the student.

By utilizing learning analytics in particular, you are able to better understand the learning level and ability of each student and can then tailor the learning experience for each student. Essentially, this allows you to identify particular needs of each student and make quick, data-driven decisions about how to foster student learning in the most effective way.

Here, we focus on the three main frameworks within Learning Analytics. Each of these different frameworks collects student data in order to help you adapt your teaching style in a way that increases student engagement and understanding.

1. Descriptive Analytics -  This framework takes the student’s past and aims to analyze the student data to find patterns in the student’s learning progress. Simply put, descriptive analytics describe what has happened and the way things are, allowing you to make strategic decisions on the best teaching style for each student. For example, you can use Descriptive Analytics to find out how much your class knows about the lesson. After analyzing the data, you might find that implementing scaffolding strategies or differentiated learning processes into your lessons may be an effective way to reach more students. Some universities and districts have descriptive analytics tools built right into the teacher’s management system.

Quick Tip: Go Pollock is also a great tool to use for Descriptive Analytics. It allows you to export a PDF Insights Report for each Session your class completes in the app. Create a Session surrounding your lesson, motivate and engage your students, then export the Insights Report to see how you can make your lessons more effective.

2. Predictive Analytics -  As the name suggests, Predictive Analytics offer insights into future trends in your students’ understanding of the material. This framework uses the student’s past data and current data to determine what is likely to happen next. This is a great analytics framework to use to identify students who may soon be ‘low-performing’ or ‘low-engaging’. This can allow you to implement methods specifically meant to help those at-risk students get back on track and reach their full potential. For example, Sam, a middle school math teacher from Oregon, tells us:

“We use the Early Warning tool in our BrightBytes Clarity management system to help determine which students are at risk. It tracks the students throughout their academic career so we can see how they grow over the years. That way, if we see a student, or group of students, that are falling particularly far behind, we are able to intervene and correct the issue before it becomes a roadblock in the student’s learning path.”

3. Prescriptive Analytics - This framework not only provides teachers with data you can then use to make actionable decisions, but it provides alternative suggestions to make your teaching more effective. Based on the student data collected, the analytics tool generates suggestions on different educational resources and tools to utilize in order to make a greater impact with students. McGraw Hill created the LearnSmart Teaching Technology to provide schools and teachers with insights into student understanding and adaptive instructional techniques based on student performance.

While there are many ways to analyze student data, it’s important to make sure you’re taking the right steps to keep your students’ personal information safe. What’s even more important to remember is that the data itself is not what influences the student’s learning experience. It’s the receptiveness of the teacher and willingness to adapt their teaching style to better meet the needs of the students that makes the real difference. How do you use analytics to improve your students’ learning experience?


'It's Trending Up': OPRF Sees Jump in Classroom Technology Use Under 1:1 Initiative

By: Steve Schering, Contact Reporter
Original Post from Chicago Tribune

In the second full year of its 1:1 student technology initiative, Oak Park and River Forest High School says more than half of its teachers are now using devices in the classroom.

Under the 1:1 initiative, all OPRF students are provided with a school-owned Chromebook laptop to use in the classroom and to take home. The full 1:1 program began during the 2016-17 school year, though OPRF had launched smaller pilot rollouts in prior years.

During the Jan. 16 school board meeting, administrators revealed results of a Brightbytes survey, which used data collected in the fall of 2017. According to administrators, 841 out of 3,300 students and 216 of 268 OPRF teachers responded to the survey, with 77 percent of teachers reporting they feel confident in managing a classroom where students are using more technology.

"That is pretty significant, since we were only in our second year of the 1:1," instructional technology coordinator Earliana McLaurin said. "The top four responses of what teachers are doing are all things we want, productivity skills and completing assignments, viewing videos, doing research and typing."

McLaurin also said more than half of OPRF teachers are now using technology in the classroom on a daily basis.

"Not only are they using it, but they're using it more frequently," McLaurin said. "It's trending up."

With the numbers showing more teachers using the Chromebooks in the classrooms, administrators said they will now focus more on how that technology is used and how it can improve the skills students will need when they graduate.

"Now that we have more teachers utilizing technology in the classroom, we can focus on promoting technology that moves beyond those productivity tasks and to those 21st century skills we want our students to leave OPRF with," McLaurin said.

Chief information officer Mike Carioscio said administrators will also use Brightbytes data to set new goals and targets they hope to achieve in the coming years.

"We have been content, until this point, since we've been focused on the delivery of the 1:1," Carioscio said. "The real goal is for us to continue to improve. The main impact to the students is for teachers to really use that technology. If you're not using it on a regular basis, you're not having that kind of transformation."

Though technology use is increasing at OPRF, administrators said how and when that technology is used remains an ongoing discussion.

"One of the things we want to do is differentiate as much as possible," McLaurin said. "That means having conversations with each teacher about what their students need. If their students need to write with a pen and paper, then that's what we'll utilize. It's a collaboration between our team and the teachers, focused on them knowing their students and knowing what they want to accomplish."

Administrators said 539 parents participated in the survey, which is about 100 more than took the same survey last year.

"Eighty-four percent of parents felt confident they had some of the necessary skills to support a tech-enabled student," McLaurin said. "Only 41 percent of parents said they were aware of safety concerns, specifically. This rightfully is an area of concern we addressed this year, and will address moving forward."

According to BrightBytes data rankings, OPRF now rates as "advanced" in its use of classroom technology, just below its highest rating of "exemplary."

Hodgesville Meets Goals Last School Year

By: Amanda Hayes/Senior Staff Writer
Original Post from The Record Delta

BUCKHANNON — A local school recently gave their Local School Improvement Council and Faculty Senate reports to the Upshur County Board of Education.

Hodgeville Elementary met all of its goals for 2016-2017, according to principal Janet Phillips.

“We wanted our school to score a 45 or higher student growth percentile in math according to the STAR benchmark in second through fifth grade,” she said. “As a school, we were able to meet that average.

“We also met the same goal for reading, language arts and early literacy and once again we were able to meet that average.”

The school’s third goal was to have 95 percent or more  students in medium to low risk as measured by Bright Bytes, a program provided by the state.

“We were very excited when we ended our year with 96 percent in that,” she said. “We had a very successful year with meeting our goals.”

LSIC chair and kindergarten teacher Taylor Tenney discussed what the school has been doing regarding academics.

“With academics, we implement a variety of strategies and use a variety of resources to differentiate instruction for the students and meet them on their level,” she said.

All grades use Investigations as the adopted curriculum for math but also supplement that with Eureka Math.

“This is used to help students foster a deeper understanding for mathematical concepts,” she said.

Kindergarten through fourth grade teachers use mathematic assessments to figure out where the math gaps are with the students.

“We use that data to drive our instruction,” she said.

“In grades Kindergarten through fifth grade, Lucy Calkins Units of Study is sued to develop and expand student’s writing skills,” she said.

Students receive extra work through the Daily 5s and Café for reading and language arts skills.

“Collaboration between Title 1 and our general education teachers is really prevalent in this area,” she said.

The kindergarten, first and second grade use the Fundations program and co-teach with Title 1.

“This is a research based program that emphasizes phonetic awareness, phonics, high frequency words, reading fluency, vocabulary comprehension, strategies, handwriting and spelling,” she said. “We have noticed phenomenal gains in our students by using this.”

Another program is also seeing results.

“Our Title 1 teacher implements Level Literacy Learning, a program for struggling readers,” she said.

The students do a diagnostic test which helps identify where gaps are.

Phillips said that a recent test by the first-grade class showed 67 percent of students were at or above mastery.

Leandra Morlan, faculty senate chair, told the board of education Hodgesville is working to become a Positive Behavior Intervention School.

“Over the past few months we have been going to trainings to become a PBIS school and over the course of the next year, we will be implementing that into our school,” she said.

The school has also been using a communication log to go home to parents or guardians that shows if the students are ‘great,’ ‘OK,’ or ‘needs to improve’ with different aspects of their day.

“We decided for the nine weeks that if they got 10 or less needs to improve checks and four or less days signed then they get to attend a reward,” she said.

“It helps us teachers be able to communicate with parents on a daily basis about things going on in the classroom, with behavior and so on.

Teachers are using Love and Logic techniques for discipline.

“We feel that is most important because not only does it show the kids respect but it allows them to save face and keep their dignity whenever they have consequences occur,” Morlan said.

“Another thing we saw with our kiddos is they were tattling a lot. We created a Mindful Monday and a Thoughtful Thursday on morning announcements where we present them a problem and use teachers as an example,” she said.

The students then talk about the scenarios with their classroom teachers and analyze whether it was a big deal or a little deal and what they should do.

“We implemented attendance incentives because we saw that we have habitual attendance issues with some of our kids and we have been really successful with that,” she said.

“We have a monthly activity and at the end of the year, we will have a really big overall incentive if they have five or less absences,” she said.

The school had seen a big spike in behavior issues during lunch and recess times.

“Last year, we implemented something called Zero Heroes,” she said. “If they got zero check marks for lunch and recess, then they got to attend an activity on Friday that the teachers created and put on. That was very successful so we were able to go from weekly to bi-monthly and hopefully we will go to monthly.”

Interesting: Rural Schools Are Outpacing Others On In-School Tech Access

By: Laura Ascione, Managing Editor, Content Services
Original Post from eSchool News

Although schools in rural areas traditionally hit roadblocks when it comes to securing technology tools and high-speed internet access in classrooms and student homes, a new study suggests students in those schools actually outperform their urban and suburban peers in access at school.

The data comes from data management and learning analytics firm BrightBytes, which analyzed more than 180 million data points collected via a national survey gauging educational technology access, use and effectiveness across 8,558 U.S. schools.

The study compares characteristics of the top 5 percent and bottom 5 percent of schools and looks at factors that impact technology access and use. And according to that data, rural schools outpace urban and suburban schools when it comes to providing technology to students and teachers.

“The report provides district and school leaders with insights into what works to improve student outcomes,” said Teela Watson, Director of Digital Learning at Education Service Center Region 11 in Fort Worth, Texas. “The information has allowed us, for the first time, to accurately and clearly communicate the effectiveness of our technology initiatives.”

Using the CASE framework, which evaluates technology implementations across four domains (Classroom, Access, Skills, and Environment) in order to help school and district leaders develop a more holistic perspective on technology, the BrightBytes Insights Report considered:

  • Classroom use of technology, including teacher and student integration of technology for communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity

  • Support for technology implementation around areas for professional learning, and the extent to which the school policies, practices, and procedures (3Ps) support the use of technology
  • Student and teacher access to technology at home and at school
  • Rural schools were disproportionately represented among schools scoring in the top 5 percent for access at school, while suburban schools were disproportionately represented in the bottom 5 percent.

    Conversely, suburban schools were disproportionately represented in the top 5 percent of schools for access at home, suggesting that suburban students, who are more likely to have devices of their own, could benefit from policies that allow them to bring their devices to school. Rural students still struggle with access to internet and devices in their homes.

    Schools with high rates of students receiving free or reduced price lunch scored lower across all domains analyzed except professional learning, indicating that teachers have the freedom to influence their own professional development regardless of their school characteristics.

    However, the data, which show low scores for the 3Ps in populations with high free or reduced price lunch rates, suggest that teachers are having difficulty transferring new skills and strategies to the classroom due to the impact of administrative decisions on technology integration.

“Drawing on millions of data points from schools around the country, this report provides critical insights into the relationship between school characteristics, such as geographical setting, and successful implementation of technology. It provides a way forward for schools–whether they are rural, urban, or suburban–to adopt the technologies necessary for building a stronger future for their students,” said former North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue, who authored the foreword to the new report.

SPS to Distribute 20,000 Laptops in First 11 Days of School

By: Claudette Riley
Original Post from Springfield News-Leader

Even rattling off the number gives Nichole Lemmon pause.

"We have never handed out 20,000 devices in 11 days, and we are doing 8,300 on the first day," she said. Lemmon, director of blended learning for Springfield Public Schools, said the distribution of computers, the largest of its kind in the history of the district, also signals the final step in a three-year plan to provide a Google Chromebook for every student in grades 3-12.

"We are finally in a place where all classrooms have the same technology," she said. "We are finally equal. I look at it as we are getting started." Superintendent John Jungmann, with the backing of the school board, launched a three-year technology effort in 2015 called Ignite. He said the effort aimed to put "modern tools and resources" in the hands of teachers and students. "The Ignite program has, as a foundational goal, the leveling of the playing field for all of our learners," he said.

In addition to the laptops, classroom teachers in kindergarten through second grade will have access to sets of iPads. A total of 3,000 will be available. The approved budget for the 2017-18 year includes lease payments for the technology rolled out during Ignite, including $437,424 for the first year, $658,919 for last year and $771,540 for this year.

The technology was implemented in a staggered way, and the leases must be reviewed every three years. At that point, the district will decide if it wants to renew and extend the lease or go in a different direction.

"We believe right now we do have the right tools in the classroom," he said. "We get good feedback from our students and teachers in the classroom. One area where we get feedback that we need more is K-2." He said expanding access will be considered this year.

Lemmon said the district is trying one-to-one technology, in the form of the touchscreen Google Chromebooks, for students in kindergarten through second grade at Fremont and Sherwood elementary schools. But, in early grades at other schools, classrooms have to check out sets of iPads.

"Our K-2 teachers, in our survey last year, said they wanted to be one-to-one too," she said.

The district has also beefed up its IT help, hired a team of blended learning specialists and provides mobile hot spots for students without internet access at home.

Jungmann said the district is in the process of revising its curriculum to take advantage of online tools and providing students with access to more adaptive software. "The goal is not modern tools, it's better learning," he said. "And better learning happens when students get individual feedback in a much more efficient manner about where you are."

Members of the school board have repeatedly asked how the district will measure the impact of the new technology and learning strategies. Jungmann said the district uses BrightBytes, which analyzes students' access, skills and development. Other, more traditional measures, are also used.

"That learning is measured by a number of different things — grades, GPA, as well as standardized test scores, which we want to move and we always say are a significant part of our metrics, but they are insufficient in representing the entire child," he said. The older devices, which were purchased before the Ignite initiative, have been moved around to provide access where needed.

"We have quit buying them so as they roll out, they've been going to surplus," he said. "We've been using them to Band-Aid the other spots and we've pushed them into K-2 environments, where they want more."

Experts: 5 Elements for a Winning, Data-Informed District

By: Laura Ascione, Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchoolNews
Original Post from eSchool Media

Data, data, data. Most school leaders know how important data is to every part of a district’s operations, from bus routes to PD and student achievement. But sometimes, capturing and interpreting that data proves challenging.

Still, when data is collected and used to drive transformational change in a district, the results are nothing short of eye-opening.

During an ISTE 2017 session from eSchool Media and BrightBytes, a panel of ed-tech experts discussed how the ability to collect, access and easily interpret data has allowed them to personalize student learning and track achievement.

Panelists included Chuck Holland, director of technology integration in South Carolina’s Richland School District Two; Donna Teuber, innovation program designer in Richland School District Two; Sheryl Abshire, chief technology officer of the Calcasieu Parish School District in Louisiana; and Jeff McCoy, associate superintendent of South Carolina’s Greenville County Schools. Here are some of the things attendees learned:

1. Technology is a must-have part of learning

“We’ve turned the corner so technology isn’t the cool thing anymore–it’s the necessary thing,” said Sheryl Abshire, chief technology officer in Louisiana’s Calasieu Parish Schools. “Twenty years ago, if we didn’t have email or if the internet went down, nobody cared but [technology staff]. Now, if it bleeps for one second, our phones start blowing up, and it’s because the internet is mission-critical. This innovative practice of using technology as an anchoring part of the total learning environment has been transformational. It’s not a revolution–it’s an evolution. The innovative piece is that you change teaching and learning with technology–the innovation is technology not for technology’s sake, but for the sake of advancing learning.”

2. Data use can make or break an initiative

“The data we’ve been able to harness has been an eye-opening piece for us,” Abshire said. “We’ve been able to dive deep into every single school, student and administrator and display information graphically.”

Data continues to drive the districts’ approach to both student and teacher learning.

“We’re using data to continually innovate,” Holland said. “When we went one-to-one, we used data from the beginning to evaluate the success of the program during implementation, and we make sure we use multiple pieces of data to drive our decisions. We monitor the data over time as our needs shift.”

“Looking at our platforms, the data we have is so important to moving forward,” Teuber said.

3. Shaking up departmental structure and physical classroom space can result in positive learning changes

Uniting the instructional technology department with the academic side allowed Greenville County Schools to focus on personalized learning and change classroom practices, McCoy said.

“We went from pockets of equity to fostering innovation in our district,” said Teuber. The district launched an incubator and made consistent efforts to support innovative practices and expand those that proved successful, often through crossfunctional innovation teams that work on lingering challenges.

“[Our instructional technology department] works with those innovation teams a lot, and technology has caused us to rethink the way classrooms are working,” Holland said.

Last year, the Richland district reevaluated its learning spaces after finding that students’ physical environments did not support innovative instructional practices in classrooms.

“Looking at the data in classrooms, [our teams] are recognizing that making one change leads to something different, and that boosts student engagement,” Holland said. “It’s really exciting to see grassroots efforts by the teachers to change student learning.”

4. PD is a big piece of the data puzzle

McCoy’s district relaunched its technology initiative after finding that, despite new technology tools, little had changed in its classrooms because teachers didn’t know how to change their instructional practices.

“This year, most of our teachers have crossed over,” McCoy said. “We invested almost as much in PD as we invested in devices, and I think that’s a critical move. You also have to have the digital content there for teachers.”

Creating personalized, data-driven learning environments for students means also focusing on personalizing PD for teachers.

The Calcasieu Parish’s technology facilitators use data to drive professional learning changes in every school.

“That data, over two years, has driven PD in every school so that when we talk about transformational change, we’re not talking about it, we’re doing it,” Abshire said. “If you delve down into the data and look at the key components, you can see where your district’s needs are, and for us, that’s driven our entire district PD program. We’ve made substantive changes that have improved practice and resulted in improved test scores, engaged learning, teacher confidence, and more teacher risk-taking.”

Because PD is informed by data, classrooms focus on students instead of teachers.

“Shifting from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered classroom was a logical progression, because technology is a huge enabler of that,” Abshire said. “It frees the classroom up to become a constructivist learning environment, which leads right into personalized and blended learning. We’ve had to personalize PD for teachers, so now we do pre-work to find out what teachers know and what they’re already able to do. We want personalized learning for our students, but we want personalized learning for teachers, too. The model we use for PD, we hope, will transfer over to teachers’ classroom instruction. When you give teachers the time to learn the way they want to, they transfer that over to their students.”

5. Identifying communication disconnects is crucial

“We launched a student-centered learning leadership series for our schools, and one of the issues we saw with getting schools ready for change is that sometimes our principals moved faster than staff wanted to move, or could move,” McCoy said. “Principals didn’t have realistic expectations of their teachers.”

The district equipped principals with strategies to put student-centered learning into place, while at the same time giving them the skills needed to create supportive environments for teachers as they developed skills necessary to foster the new learning environment.

District leaders realized principals needed additional skills to encourage teachers to create innovative classrooms, and some of those skills included the ability to give teachers safe space to take risks.

“You can’t create a culture of innovation by saying ‘No’ all the time,” McCoy said.

R-7 School District Gets Acknowledged for Technology
The Kansas City Star

Original post The Kansas City Star

The Lee’s Summit School District was among seven educational organizations featured in The Keyword, Google’s a national blog that focuses in part on Chromebooks and the company’s tools for education.

The June 2017 blog, written in conjunction with the International Society for Technology in Education conference, featured Lee’s Summit’s move to one-to-one student Chromebooks.

The organizations are included among a number of “Impact Portraits,” developed during a 16-month investigation by the Evergreen Education Group, which discussed educational strategies and tools with more than 100 school leaders from six countries to develop the case studies.

The Evergreen group describes its mission as helping “state and federal governments, school districts, companies and foundations gain insight into the ever-evolving digital learning landscape so they can successfully plan and implement best practices related to educational technology.”

Each study included key factors that helped schools and students flourish when adopting technology for the classroom — including planning, professional learning, patience and support.

In August 2015, the district gave a Chromebook to each of its 17,500 students from kindergarten through senior high school. Known as Connect2Learn, the program has increased learning opportunities and leveled the playing field for students from a variety of family incomes.

The students use the Chromebooks at school, at home or wherever a WiFi hotspot is available. District staff members have been working with internet providers to help families obtain low-cost internet service. The district also maintains a website mapping businesses that support students by offering free internet hotspots.

By providing each student a Chromebook, the district can offers them more personalized and novel learning experiences. Lee’s Summit used BrightBytes CASE exams to measure results from the one-to-one program. These exams showed increased in all four measures of the test after Connect2Learn’s first year. The test measures classroom, access, skills and environment.