South Dakota: Linking Data Collection & Professional Learning at the Britton-Hecla SD

By Linda Richter, Librarian for Britton-Hecla School District and LOFTI Site Coordinator, and Gloria Steele, Education Technology Specialist for Technology & Innovations in Education and LOFTI Evaluation Team Member

Linda Richter, district coordinator of Learning Organizations for Technology Integration (LOFTI) for the Britton-Hecla School District reflects on her participation in the ISTE/LOFTI Teacher Performance (ILTP) Study: 'Being involved in the ILTP study was such a rewarding experience. I remember thinking, 'Why did I volunteer to do this and how will I find time to interview three teachers?' When all was said and done, I thought 'Wow, what a great experience!' And, instead of completing three interviews, I had done five interviews with teachers close to my school district.'

Situated in the northeastern corner of South Dakota, the Britton-Hecla School District serves a student population of 511 with a teaching staff of 39. In the fall of 1998, when the statewide LOFTI project launched, Britton-Hecla was one of four school districts selected to begin a five-year journey 'to facilitate professional development related to the integration of technology as a vehicle to affect the redesign of curriculum and instruction practices.'

Prior to the beginning of the LOFTI project, the Britton-Hecla School District prided itself on being a district in which technology was embraced and district leaders were proactive in garnering support for technology hardware and software acquisitions necessary to facilitate classroom use. One of the bigger challenges facing the district was finding ways to support teachers in their acquisition of technology skills and their ability to design meaningful technology-based classroom experiences. The resources provided through the LOFTI project enabled the district to address this challenge and focus professional development activities on these two areas. The work of LOFTI was grounded in the 2000 ISTE Teacher Performance Standards, which served as a guiding document for project planning. These standards also served as a framework for collecting data relative to both individual teacher progress toward attaining the standards and district-level progress relative to systemwide attainment of the standards.

Focusing on Data Collection

A variety of data collection processes and tools were used by the local district to help LOFTI project leaders understand the results of their professional development efforts during the first three years of the project. By the fourth year, the district participated in a standardized statewide data-collection process called the ILTP study. The ILTP study featured two strands of work: an online survey and a structured teacher interview and artifact collection process.

The online survey questions had a specific focus on ISTE Standard I: 'Technology Operations and Concepts' and Standard V: 'Productivity and Professional Practice.' Britton-Hecla teachers were among more than 1,500 teachers statewide who completed the online survey. The following chart shows how district teachers compared to a statewide sample in several identified categories.

Teaching With Technology Online Survey Results:

Britton Hecla District ILTP Study Data

In this comparison of Britton-Hecla teachers to a statewide sample of teachers, district teachers scored higher than the sample in three categories:

1.Amount of technology skill-building training they received
2.The amount of training in classroom methods;
3.The amount of training on teaching with technology.
They performed slightly higher than the statewide sample in three additional categories:
1.The amount of training in classroom assessment;
2.The availability of computers for classroom instruction; and
3.The frequency of computer use for instruction.

They scored lower than the sample in the amount of training in distance education. 100% of district teachers say computers are available to them in the school.

How did the district use the 'Teaching With Technology Survey' results? The survey results gave the district LOFTI team important data to use as the basis for new professional development offerings. They could use the data to identify areas of strength and weakness for planning professional development activities. It also served as one indicator for validating their project work during the first three years of LOFTI and helped them see how district teachers compare to teachers throughout the state. The online survey data and district report was one source of data contributing to a larger data collection portfolio for policy and planning decisions.

In her reflections, Linda Richter identifies two things which stood out for LOFTI team members in the Britton-Hecla School District. First, they were pleased with the comfort level and expertise of district teachers in performing a wide range of technology skills; second, the teachers listed the training opportunities that had been offered to them. They cited an extensive amount of training on technical skills, a moderate amount of training in classroom methods - except in the area of distance instruction - and little training in classroom assessment.

'Our LOFTI team really felt good about the technology skills of teachers in our district and we recognized the need to continue and expand our training in classroom assessment,' says Richter. Although the Britton-Hecla School District administered a teacher-needs assessment early in the LOFTI project implementation, the data provided by their ILTP district report gave a more targeted and current picture of teacher needs. One of the specific activities undertaken by the district in response to this report was the implementation of a teacher competency initiative in which three levels of teacher technology proficiency were identified based on the 2000 ISTE standards. LOFTI team members served as peer reviewers during the 'testing out' phase of the initiative, and teachers who successfully met the criteria for the three levels received monetary compensation provided through LOFTI project funds

Interview and artifact collection processes. In preparation for the interview and artifact collection portion of the ILTP study, a list of 10 classroom teacher candidates from the Britton-Hecla School District were entered into a statewide pool. From these candidates, three were selected for interviews and teacher and student artifact analysis. The three selected teachers represented different grade levels and different academic content areas. In addition, the district LOFTI project site coordinator was chosen to be trained in the interview and artifact review and scoring processes. At the completion of her training, Richter then became part of the statewide pool of educators who conducted interviews with teachers in other districts and reviewed lesson plans and student artifacts submitted by these teachers.

How were the interview and artifact collection results used? Based on the ISTE Teacher Performance Standards, the interview questions could serve as an intervention with teachers by facilitating their thinking about specific components of technology integrated lessons or units and student products resulting from these lessons. This process represents a form of data-based professional learning for individual teachers. Since a cohort of three district teachers were interviewed in the Britton-Hecla district, they had an opportunity to share their learning with one another. The interview questions and results, feedback from reviewers, and revisions they made to their lessons are all important aspects of using the data. The formation of a three-member cohort exemplifies a potential delivery system for building the capacity of other district teachers. The ILTP study rubric, which is based on ISTE Standards I through V and designed to serve as a basis for judging teachers' achievement of the 23 performance indicators, provides a tool for districts to continue to use after the project ends.

The scoring process itself proved invaluable for the reviewers. In Richter's words, 'The scoring process helped me clarify what 'good' technology integration looks like. And, as a result, our district LOFTI team made improvements in the criteria we were using for minigrants in our district.' Also, because the 15 reviewers were drawn from districts throughout South Dakota, the reviewer training process resulted in the placement of experienced reviewers in regional locations across the state. Richter returned to her district equipped to work with teachers to strengthen teaching and learning experiences for students.

Both the engagement of the Britton-Hecla site coordinator in the process and the results of this portion of the study influenced the district decision to continue their summer minigrant program in which teachers designed technology integrated lessons. The criteria for elements of lesson design and the quality requirements for products resulting from this activity were improved because of the findings of the report. Teachers learned to design lessons containing more learner-centered strategies, multiple methods for assessing student learning, and increased consideration for research-based instructional strategies, including the use of technology.

One example of a unit developed by Britton-Hecla teachers, titled 'Forces of Nature,' can be accessed at http://vh018.k12.sd.us/new_page_1.htm and http://lg019.k12.sd.us/forces_of_nature.htm.

Richter's testimony highlights the professional value of this experience. She not only completed her three assigned interviews, but two additional ones as well. 'It was so much fun to visit with teachers in other schools about the ways in which they were integrating technology with students in their classrooms,' she says. 'The kinds of student activities shared by teachers represented a range of technology uses and varying levels of sophistication, but in every example the teacher was enthused about the new technology skills they had learned and felt capable of implementing in their classroom.'

Valuing the Content and the Process

This example of the Britton-Hecla School District's use of both the data collection process and the data content as tools for improving the quality of technology integration and teacher technology skills in their district may serve as a model for other districts to consider in their efforts to leverage the use of data and impact the use of technology for improved teaching and learning. The components and details of the ILTP study, a statewide data collection process, are shared in a companion article titled 'A South Dakota Report Card: Results From the ISTE/LOFTI Teacher Profile Study' click here to read.

Online Resources

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

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