Texas: Meeting the Technology Integration Challenge in Texas Schools
Deep in the heart of Texas classrooms, students use digital technology to access, analyze and evaluate information; solve problems; and communicate with diverse audiences. Technology is making it possible for learning to occur in new and exciting ways. It is also becoming a common denominator - an equalizer - for giving students with diverse backgrounds and experiences opportunities to extend and promote learning.
At Hillsboro Independent School District (ISD) in rural central Texas, there are a variety of technology programs for teachers, students and parents. The teacher laptop program has incentives for both teachers and administrators and the summer camp training model was the key to the program's successful implementation. Class time is more effective as students use wireless laptops for research and curriculum projects. Parents and the community have opportunities to see firsthand the students' projects and the unique instructional methods on scheduled "Technology Nights." In suburban Houston, at Klein ISD, first-graders use laptops and productivity software to research and then illustrate the differences between spiders and insects. For students in these districts, use of the laptops is as much a part of their normal daily life as using the alphabet.
These examples are not isolated instances in Texas. Instead, they are the result of two coordinated approaches: focused grant programs and existing state law. Like many other states, Texas uses grant programs to perpetuate and propagate best practices. However, unlike most states, Texas has state laws that have been leveraged to integrate technology.
No matter where you go across Texas, there are high expectations about what students should know and be able to do using digital technology. This is due to the state's required technology applications curriculum. Technology literacy standards are specified through the Technology Applications (TA) Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).
These standards are to be integrated throughout the curriculum in grades K-8 and expanded through specialized, focused courses in grades 9-12. The TA TEKS give a vertical alignment between what is expected for K-8 students with learning benchmarks at grades 2, 5 and 8. They are not to be taught in isolation; rather, they are an integral part of every classroom's use of technology. In the standards for the core content areas in Texas - math, science, social studies and language arts - there are references to the use of technology. The importance of students meeting the technology literacy benchmarks for acquiring and integrating the TA TEKS across the curriculum is paramount in leading to success in meeting the curriculum needs of Texas students and meeting the requirements of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
Technology literacy has been important in Texas for many years. It began in Texas classrooms over two decades ago when computer literacy was required by the Texas Legislature. All students were required to take computer literacy in grade seven or eight, and computer science was offered in high school. Since then, there have been many changes in technology and the use of technology in classrooms across the state. No longer is computer literacy sufficient nor is just learning about technology the focus.
Technology applications and the integration of technology throughout the curriculum are key components of the state's "2002 Progress Report on the Long-Range Plan for Technology, 1996-2010," and are articulated in the "Teaching and Learning" and "Educator Preparation and Development" sections of that plan (visit the report online at www.tea.state.tx.us/technology).Technology standards and integration strategies extend to the teaching corps as well. The Texas State Board for Educator Certification has adopted technology requirements for all teachers based on the TA TEKS. In addition, there are new certification areas in Technology Applications for teachers who want to be experts in the use of digital technology, while building expertise in applying digital technology in the core curriculum areas.
Digital Instructional Materials
While there are high expectations for the use of technology in teaching and learning, there is a realization that students and teachers need instructional materials to provide lessons and activities to acquire the needed knowledge and skills, as well as to make connections with the core curriculum. One exciting effort was made when the State Board of Education called for instructional materials for Technology Applications. Instead of traditional print textbooks, Technology Applications instructional materials are subscription-based with a focus on electronic components, including online and/or CD-ROM lessons and activities. The ability to call for and adopt materials at the state level allows for all students and teachers in every classroom to have access to instructional resources that are aligned with the state standards and customized for Texas classrooms.
The advantages of subscription-based electronic materials include the encouragement to publishers to consider content changes through the six- to eight-year adoption cycle as technology changes and current events warrant. Provisions have also been included for increases in the subscription price over time to support such changes. The response to this call has been significant. Most of the adopted materials have online components, some with supporting CD-ROM and/or print materials. Publishers included traditional textbook companies as well as a variety of software publishers new to the adoption process. A list of the adopted materials is available at www.tea.state.tx.us/textbooks/materials. These materials are scheduled to be in classrooms in the fall of 2005.
Teaching digital technology knowledge and skills through the use of digital instructional materials provides opportunities for the integration of evolving technologies that transform the teaching process by allowing for greater levels of interest, inquiry, analysis, collaboration, creativity and content production. To meet the requirements of NCLB that all students must be technology literate by the eighth grade, Title II D competitive grant funds have been targeted toward preparing Texas classrooms to use the Technology Applications instructional materials when they become available. Grants from the Technology Applications Readiness Grants for Empowering Texas (TARGET) resulted in more than 60 awards, totaling approximately $48 million for the first two years of the program. A project in Austin ISD has focused on fourth- and fifth-grade students to ensure they are literate in technology and reading. Their program has equipped a cadre of instructional coaches with strategies to deliver professional development to fourth- and fifth-grade reading teachers. These trained instructional staff members also work with teachers and administrators to utilize the technology-based student data and benchmark assessment systems to identify specific reading and literacy gaps, as well as to utilize appropriate intervention strategies.
Transforming Teaching & Learning
Twenty seven districts in the Rio Grande Valley participate in the Maximizing Achievement Through Technology (MaXtech) initiative. The primary purpose of this project is to improve academic achievement of economically disadvantaged students in grades 3-5 by fully integrating technology into the curriculum to lay a foundation for ensuring that all students will be technologically literate by the time they finish the eighth grade. Strategies include using online curriculum resources to support the TA TEKS; professional development for teachers, with access to online resources to support the integration of technology into content learning; and hardware and software that support technology-infused learning in the classroom.
Teachers across the state also use the Technology Applications Teacher Network (TATN), an interactive Web site that provides best practices and resources for teachers to integrate the K-8 TA TEKS into the content area classroom. They also use the site to help teach the eight dedicated high school Technology Applications courses: Computer Science I and II, Digital Graphics/Animation, Desktop Publishing, Web Mastering, Multimedia, Video Technology, and Independent Study. It provides model classroom lessons and professional development resources. Another component of the TATN is state and regional "best-practices events" that showcase how Technology Applications connect with core curriculum and make a difference in Texas schools.
The state also offers a self-assessment tool, the Texas School Technology and Readiness (STaR) chart, to assist in determining progress toward the goals of its own long-range plan for technology and NCLB. The chart is available at www.tea.state.tx.us/technology/etac/campus_txstar/index.html. This fall, the Texas Teacher STaR Chart will be released, giving teachers their own tool to help determine their progress toward achieving the "Target Tech" level (the highest level on the chart) in true integration into the curriculum by transforming teaching and learning.
In Texas, there is much happening in moving toward the NCLB Act's goal of ensuring "ongoing integration of technology into school curricula and instructional strategies in all schools, so that technology will be fully integrated into curricula and instruction by Dec. 31, 2006." Schools are making positive gains in getting there. And with the Technology Applications instructional materials adoption and other statewide efforts, this goal can be accomplished. For more information, visit www.tea.state.tx.us/curriculum.
This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.