ILS Is Integral to Staff Development Program

Exciting things are happening at Fox Chapel Area School District, located in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pa. Dr. Helen Sobehart, the assistant superintendent, explains that a districtwide staff development program that teaches instructors how to manage student diversity is underway, and an ILS package from Computer Curriculum Corp. (CCC) in Sunnyvale, Calif., is central to its implementation. SuccessMaker Elementary and Middle School packages, Release 16, are used by all elementary teachers, sixth-grade instructors and certain subject-area educators in the district's high school. And this has all come about in the past year. "We're well over half the way there," says Sobehart in reference to a true districtwide implementation. "Practically every teacher will be using the system over the next three to four years." Step into a classroom in one of the district's four elementary schools and you'll see an area alive with discovery. Several students are at workstations running CCC software, another group receives instruction directly from the instructor, yet another cluster is at hands-on learning stations located around the room, and the remainder are completing paper-based assignments at their desks. After 15 or so minutes, students rotate, thus experiencing many kinds of learning opportunities. The packages purchased by the district cover science, social studies and basic skills. The latter is utilized extensively in all grades that have access to it as a prescriptive tool. One of SuccessMaker's greatest benefits is that it opens up the classroom, helping students of varying skill levels at the same time, yet at their own pace. And it complements the teacher development program, which is based on adaptive learning environment models. For example, special education teachers no longer pull their students from the classroom environment. Rather, that instructor works with his or her students within the classroom while also providing help for the mainstream students.

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The Next Release Sobehart explains that she and the district's instructors have been beta testing the next version of the software, Release 17, which will include an instructional management system. All are excited because of two very important features. First, it will allow instructors to monitor individual student progress, in effect creating an IEP for every child and illustrating where he or she is in relation to the district's curriculum. It will also support electronic portfolio assessment. Secondly, the new release's tracking functions will provide Sobehart with a holistic picture of what is happening in education throughout the school system. "It will tell us more about the effectiveness and accuracy of instruction," she explains. "We'll know what effect we are having on learning." Fox Chapel Area School District investigated other ILS systems before making a final decision. They chose SuccessMaker because, according to Sobehart, the instructional learning system was better conceived. "[CCC] saw a need to be able to track student progress such as the rate of acquisition. Teachers can plan how much instruction students need." Secondly, she was impressed with the company on a human level. "They are very responsive to customer needs. They are quality people." Teachers love using the ILS -- even the more traditional ones. As part of their contract, the district purchased inservice training for their teachers at the building level. Initially, three days of training were set aside. More sophisticated training procedures require additional training. In addition, technology specialists at the elementary schools received a higher level of training so they can become onsite resources for other teachers. Testing Positive Although the district knew that the software and new instructional model were impacting education, they wanted a method of determining to what extent. So Fox Chapel conducted an evaluation with help from Dukane University; the results are positive. "We looked at the entire population using both the software and the management system, then divided [students] into three groups: gifted children, special ed. and normal students," Sobehart explains. Growth using the software was measured over a four-month period. The least amount of growth gained was four months. Some gained as much as two years' knowledge in that time span. The district also wanted to determine if the combined software and instructional management program increased students' achievement capacity as well as encouraged them to become independent learners. After researching scores for the past three years to determine how much students gained per year, then comparing current standard achievement test scores, it was determined that in fact, all three groups increased their achievement capacities compared to their counterparts.

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/1994 issue of THE Journal.

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