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Tech & Learning – Return on Technology: How Our District Determined Gains in Student Performance

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This article first appeared on on April 7, 2017.

By E. Anne Boothe

“Four years ago our school district launched an ambitious initiative centered on giving students more choices and teachers the freedom to shift their learning modes and methodologies. We called it the “PowerUp” implementation, and the primary component was a 1:1 laptop initiative for all our high schools.
Since then, we have seen a number of big wins from PowerUp. Not only can we offer 24/7 learning, but we’ve also broken down the silos that existed among our leadership, administration, and instructors, while also improving cross-departmental collaboration. Most importantly, we’ve seen improvements in student learning outcomes including:

  • Better test scores reported on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) program and
  • Enhanced English and Math gains — especially for our English language learners and low-income students

Step One: Device Rollout
PowerUp was rolled out across three different cohorts over a 3-year period. Teachers in each cohort received their devices in August, while their students obtained their devices in January (so by year one of cohort one, students had already had their devices for five months). During the first year, we focused on distributing laptops to every student, and teaching them digital literacy and how to be good stewards of technology (i.e., taking care of the devices, using them in a safe and secure manner, etc.).

Of course, with 283 schools and 215,000 students, our district also needed a learning management system (LMS) that would help teachers create and use coursework that was both digital and aligned to Texas state standards.

Step Two: Bringing Together Software and Content
We wanted a solution that take our complete library of 2 million learning objects from teacher-created content as well as publisher’s curriculum and manage all of it on a single platform. This allowed teachers to link learning objectives (e.g., those stored in our digital libraries) to specific standards. This, in turn, would allow teachers to more readily determine subject mastery and proficiency of individual students.

We selected itslearning as our LMS because it enables the meta-tagging of learning objectives within our libraries and the creation of assessment data that tells teachers whether or not a student has gained proficiency. Using the LMS platform, educators can generate a list of recommended objectives that supports the re-teaching of non-mastered standards while also providing a very personalized learning experience.

Known as “The HUB,” our end-to-end enterprise platform serves as the center of collaboration, personalization, curriculum, instruction, and communication for all staff, students, and parents. It helps teachers do more in less time while personalizing instruction for students, who can access HUB 24/7/365 from any device and get their specific instructional material, coursework, and digital textbooks.

During the first year, we focused on distributing laptops to every student, and teaching them digital literacy and how to be good stewards of technology (i.e., taking care of the devices, using them in a safe and secure manner, etc.).

Step Three: Enjoying the ROI (Return on Investment and Instruction)
Using technology as a facilitator, we’ve seen improvements in student learning outcomes for both algebra and English. From 2014-15, for example, all students’ STAAR English achievement in PowerUp schools rose to 63 (from a previous 58). During the same period, STAAR Algebra scores rose from 68 to 71. The English scores—particularly among minority, English Language Learner (ELL), and low-income pupils—rose by five points during the second year of our PowerUp implementation.

By taking technology integration to the next level in K-12, we’ve given students choices that they didn’t previously have. Pretty soon, students will be able to search for their own content in the learning library. When that happens—and as teachers mature in their ability to make a difference with technology, and really personalize and differentiate learning in an even more purposeful way—I think we’ll be able to create an even higher-quality learning environment for our students.

E. Anne Boothe is director of academic services and personalized learning for Houston Independent School District.

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