Education Technology Helps Unite School Communities, Improve Academic Achievement

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Gone are the days of the one-room schoolhouse, rote learning and the brightly colored, movable beads of an abacus. Instead, innovative education technology and Internet-based programs are increasingly being incorporated into classrooms nationwide. This increased use of technology in education is due in large part to the landmark No Child Left Behind Act, which brings greater accountability for the improved academic achievement of all students. Under the federal law, states and schools are required to assess and report student progress, identify learning gaps, ensure instructional quality, provide educational options to students in schools needing improvement, and inform parents of choices to better meet the needs of their children.

Customizing Assessments

The education industry has responded to these requirements by developing more effective technology solutions that do not simply replicate existing practices online. These advancements individualize instruction, expand access to educational resources, and increase communication with parents and other key stakeholders - engaging students in a more dynamic learning experience.

One practical example of this shift has been the development of programs, such as Following the Leaders and the School Information Partnership, which offer technology resources and information access not only to comply with NCLB, but also to bring together all of the stakeholders in a child's education. These solutions were designed to incorporate the strategies and principles identified through scientific research that enhance the effectiveness of schools, as well as address some commonly identified challenges to school and student success.

NCLB can be achieved, especially in schools where teachers and administrators have the tools, training and support to provide for the unique academic needs of every student. Current advances in technology offer welcome relief from laborious tasks that decrease the amount of time teachers have to focus on instruction. These advances also allow teachers to acquire, manage and use data to increase student achievement.

Technology helps teachers answer two critical questions: What have students learned and what do they need to be taught? Teachers access online resources to efficiently and effectively develop assessments that are aligned to state standards and textbook curriculum. Assessments can then be assigned to the entire class to help gauge the progress and varying rates of learning for all students. Through an arsenal of online resources, teachers can also customize assessments to an individual or group of students. Ready access to online course material, lessons and assessments is the most effective tool for helping students meet their full learning potential.

Once students have completed assessments online, scores are recorded automatically in reports of both student and classroom performance. Teachers review individual student and class information to guide instructional decisions, as well as to assign enrichment or remediation lessons that target the particular needs of each student. These types of tools enable classroom teachers to maintain their focus on teaching rather than having to create tests, grade papers, calculate and record grades, and research activities for lesson instruction.

Web-Based Technologies

In Charleston, W.Va., Dunbar Middle School stood out as the only secondary school in Kanawha County to meet all of the requirements under NCLB during the 2002-03 school year. Principal Lynda Gilkeson credits new technologies available through programs like Following the Leaders with providing a solid framework for teachers to better understand state standards and testing systems. This technology provides teachers with information at their fingertips, enabling them to link classroom instruction to state standards. It also offers easy access to reports on student progress against these standards. With this information, teachers and school leaders can focus curriculum planning and instruction where they are needed most.

For students, Web-based technologies provide a seamless learning environment between school and home. The technologies can also make a tremendous impact on helping underachieving students get up to speed, while helping overachieving students remain challenged and motivated. Students may complete lessons in the classroom or work in a lab setting, while others may complete their work at home, in special classes, or with tutors or parents. Technology provides immediate feedback on lessons, so students no longer have to wait days or even hours to know their scores and the areas that need review.

With this immediate turnaround of information, parents are able to be more engaged in their child's learning and to provide additional assistance in areas of improvement. At-home access also gives more flexibility to working parents who no longer have to wait for report cards, struggle with scheduling parent conferences, or rely on calls from teachers to know their child's progress. They now have the added assurance that their child's information is secure and available only to them with a protected password.

Analyzing Student Progress

Principals view technology as a vital resource for evaluating student performance information, tracking academic achievement and identifying areas of the curriculum in which teachers may need additional training or assistance. By using technology to analyze schoolwide trends, principals can reallocate resources and overhaul staff development activities to ensure that they are focused on increasing student achievement.

Principals also have access to a variety of online reports that allow them to compare the performance of students and classes within the school. The principals may even develop and assign benchmark tests, which students may take online or on paper. These benchmark tests help administrators track the progress of all students and identify areas for improvement. Understanding whether deficiencies are attributable to individual students, classes or subgroups helps principals to create the most effective solutions for ensuring classroom success. Technology removes this guesswork, highlighting the need for greater parental involvement, individualized remediation, improved curriculum and increased professional development.

Much like principals, district-level administrators can also leverage online access to reports that help analyze student achievement among the schools in the district. In some schools, benchmark tests are created and assigned at the district level. The results of these assessments allow superintendents and supervisors to identify strengths and weaknesses within the district. They additionally help to make adjustments in order to assure that all students have equal access to quality education. These reports provide administrators with meaningful data, which may also be shared with policy-makers to help make better-informed decisions that result in increased academic achievement for all students.

Tapping into Technology

In small, rural school districts such as Virginia CUSD #64 in Illinois, Superintendent Mike Lane and his two principals recognize that programs like Following the Leaders act as a much-needed addition to their team. With limited resources, the Virginia district simply d'es not have the capacity to track, report and analyze student progress; yet, this information remains vital to improving academic achievement and meeting NCLB requirements. Annual state assessments in Illinois recently showed that the district has been low in mathematics. However, knowing that information was not enough to correct the problem, teachers and school leaders would ask: Is it computation? Is it word problems? And previously, the answer would have been: We're not sure. Now, technology tools are helping to answer these questions and keep rural districts on par with the performance of districts with greater access to learning resources.

By tapping into technology tools, entire school communities are coming together in support of measured student achievement. Schools using technology to enhance learning are driving significant improvements nationwide. They are also helping redefine the relationships between students and teachers, teachers and parents, as well as parents and school leaders. Feedback between these groups remains critical to breaking down barriers and creating an education system that places a premium on the academic success of all students. Without technology, these relationships would be restricted and gains unrealized.

Contact Information
Education Leaders Council
(202) 261-2600
www.educationleaders.org

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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