Systemic School Reform :: Wisconsin

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TEACHING OUTSIDE THE BOX

Wisconsin officials recognized a need to turn their attention from the technology toolsthemselves and focus on how the tools could be used to stimulate learning.

Teaching Outside the Box IN WISCONSIN, WE realized that our focuswas too much on technology—the box—and notenough on systemic reform. A preoccupation withaccess and connectivity as a result of the mid-’90s digitalboom drew state educators away from seeing technologyas an ingredient in student performance. Weneeded to shift our attention from the tools themselvesand concentrate on how technology and informationservices could be used to support learning.

This shift came in the form of two statewide efforts promoted by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and its partners. The first was to strongly encourage districts to create a combined information and technology plan to meet requirements for No Child Left Behind, E-Rate, and a state-mandated, long-range library media plan. As nearly 80 percent of Wisconsin’s 426 school districts have fewer than 2,000 preK-12 students, the district library media director would often have to double as the technology coordinator. The creation of a unified plan made sense, as it facilitated cooperation between programs, leveraged resources, and eliminated duplicated services.

“Our district’s library media and technology plan provides us the clear goals and direction we need to focus our limited resources on initiatives impacting our students the most,” says Santana Lau, technology director at Port Edwards School District. “The plan also serves as a building block for communication among stakeholders.”

Adds Anna Niemeyer, technology integration specialist for the School District of Poynette, “The combined plan has fostered additional collaboration in a practical format that aligns several department goals into a cohesive information and technology literacy program that supports student learning and curricular initiatives.”

The second undertaking was the state’s participation in enGauge. Administered jointly by the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory and Learning Point Associates in conjuction with the Department of Public Instruction, enGauge is a framework that helps schools and districts plan and evaluate the deployment of educational technology. Through the use of surveys and site visits, data is collected on participants’ perceptions of the use of technology and its impact on education in their districts. The process looks at six conditions: vision, educator proficiency, effective practice, access, equity, and systems and leadership. This data collection and analysis can provide information about efforts aimed at districtwide information and technology planning, curriculum revision, school improvement, and professional development. “We use the data from our on-site enGauge partner to help us identify the key improvement opportunities,” Lau says. “Once they are identified, initiatives for improvement will be implemented through our new technology plan, curriculum reviews, and various staff development opportunities. The objective views from the survey allow us to ask questions that we don’t usually ask, like whether we are doing enough to inform all our stakeholders about what we are doing. Are we using our technology to its full potential? Does our staff’s technology level match the needs for the 21st-century-skills requirement?”

Nearly every district that has completed the enGauge program has made changes to its policies, planning, or professional development as a result of the evaluations. Using data analysis in the planning stage prevents districts from being swayed by the squeaky wheel, and enables them to allocate resources and energy on clearly defined areas of need.

Many district staff comment that the information they’ve gleaned from data analysis has allowed them to focus their professional development on student performance in specific content areas, and on how media and technology services and programs can support achievement in those areas. This link is vital to sustaining systemic change and reform.

“We’ve used the enGauge data to support a number of initiatives in the district,” Niemeyer says. “We’ve used the results to set goals for both our district Strategic Plan and our Information and Technology Literacy Plan. We’ve also planned staff development based on the data gathered from these results. EnGauge results have enabled us to expand student learning and the curricula, meet the diverse needs of all students we serve, and communicate information to all stakeholders.”

At the close of this school year, nearly 83 percent of local educational agencies in the state had participated in enGauge. Just over 67 percent of LEAs completed both the online and on-site data-collection portions of the process, while 16 percent had completed just the online portion.

“It is great to see such a high number of districts taking advantage of the toolsets being offered,” says Richard Grobschmidt, assistant state superintendent with the DPI. “Using this program enables our local educators and school leaders to get a firm grasp on not only how information and technology can influence student learning, but also how to implement technology to have a lasting impact on teaching and learning.”

-Stuart J. Ciske is an educational consultant for the WisconsinDepartment of Public Instruction.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2007 issue of THE Journal.

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