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Pennsylvania: Penn-Delco School District Reaches Its Goals by Holding Fast to Technology Vi

In February, the Pennsylvania Department of Education's Office of Educational Technology published a comprehensive vision of its pathway to the future of education technology. As superintendent (Leslye Abrutyn) and board president (Keith Crego) of Penn-Delco School District, we embody the concepts and practices of that vision. In a time when No Child Left Behind (NCLB) demands an increase in student achievement, but funds for technology are scarce, we know that leadership is crucial to using technology wisely.

A board president's role is to ensure that resources are available to carry out the superintendent's educational vision. According to Latham (1999): 'We need to figure out the most effective way to allocate limited resources. ... The question thus is not so much whether technology matters, but rather how we can make it matter the most and cost the least.' We must be responsible to our taxpayers while ensuring that our students have the advantage of technology.

As superintendent of Penn-Delco for the last six years and board president for the last three years, we have enjoyed seeing the promise of technology become a reality in helping us increase student achievement and meeting the goals of NCLB. But it may be surprising to many that the most challenging part has been staying true to the vision of how technology can help us. Without adherence to the vision, the tendency is to be reactive and instinctive, which leads to a lack of focus and purpose. However, Penn-Delco has been focused and purposeful.

The cornerstone of our vision for technology has been to use it to accomplish what individuals cannot. In this way, technology adds value. We most often communicate this vision through questions. When a committee wishes to purchase technology we ask: 'How will the technology increase student achievement?' When we have a problem we always ask, 'Can technology help solve it?' When we plan the next curricular initiative we ask, 'What data support this request?' And the ultimate question each administrator is charged with is, 'What is the most cost-effective technology (high impact/low cost) to get us where we want to be?'

Effective Technology Uses

The following section provides examples of how similar questions have been answered, demonstrating how Penn-Delco's most effective uses of technology help meet the requirements of NCLB and improve student achievement:

How will technology increase student achievement? The true promise of technology lies in its ability to customize and individualize learning. In Penn-Delco, we have focused on the individual child for many years. The secret to our success has always been to move each child forward; thus, collectively moving our district forward. We do not focus on blanket staff development initiatives or on broad programs, but on individual students. We have used integrated learning systems to improve math and reading because these systems have the ability to target instruction at exactly the level each child needs. We also have used reading software to check comprehension on individual books that students have read.

Can technology help solve the problem? Recently we were presented with a problem: Many high school students are not doing their math homework, thereby impeding student achievement. We were also presented with a solution: Implement a policy on homework. But, instead, we asked for a technology solution. The key to students doing homework is parental support. Parents are, by far, our most underutilized resource to improve student achievement. By utilizing technology already in place, we are closer to enlisting parents to help our children complete homework. Teacher Web pages are the powerful technology solution to give parents the ability to monitor homework. Penn-Delco teachers post homework assignments and other valuable information on their individual Web page, which can be easily accessed through the Penn-Delco School District Web site.

What data supports this request? Data is the foundation upon which decisions must be made. Fortunately, technology can help us look at data. NCLB requirements for improved student attendance have propelled us to utilize attendance data far more than in the past. When administrators asked for more personnel to help monitor student attendance, data pointed to a different solution. Instead of using global solutions such as adding more personnel, existing software allowed us to determine where and when attendance was most problematic and target those situations.

For years, we have used technology to help us disaggregate data to understand how to help each child improve. The data drives such decisions as grouping of students for effective instruction, curriculum needed, amount of time to spend, and areas of remediation. Our most recent efforts are in the area of formative assessment to monitor individual student progress on an ongoing basis.

What is the most cost-effective technology (high impact/low cost) to get us where we want to be? To be effective, school district technology should have the ability to impact every student and, ideally, every parent. In order for parents to support their children, they need information. We learned that for virtually no cost we could use existing grade-reporting software to e-mail grades to parents every week. Prior to technology, this type of information was not readily available to parents. Two other technologies that provide information are our Web site and group e-mail. We try to continually expand our site by providing information useful to improve student achievement. For example, we will soon host all curricula on the Web site.

In addition, group e-mail is a tool that all principals are using more frequently for communication with parents. School districts should not overlook technology tools that can help inform parents, because they are cost- effective and provide the equity of reaching all parents, not just those who can come to school to acquire information.

Lessons Learned

There are many valuable lessons learned over the years. Perhaps the most valuable is to start small and understand the impact of technology. At Penn- Delco, we have piloted most initiatives to avert costly and time-consuming mistakes. A second important lesson in the era of shrinking resources is that districts can utilize existing technology in many more ways than they currently do. The recent Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo & Conference was invaluable to us because we learned from others who shared their successes.

What does the future hold for technology in Penn-Delco? We are in the process of building a data warehouse to integrate technology information across functions. This not only includes student achievement data, but also data that can be utilized by nurses, librarians, transportation, personnel, maintenance, special education, the business department, athletics and others. We will refine our ability to use technology for formative assessment and utilize it more widely, particularly for special education students. By holding fast to our technology vision, we can reach our goals.

Reference

Latham, A. 1999. 'Computers and Achievement.' Educational Leadership, 56 (5).

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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