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Technology Integration, Assessment, and No Child Left Behind

Technology In The Classroom

The federal No Child Left Behind Act includes numerous resources to help schools and states use technology more extensively and efficiently. John Bailey, former director of educational technology for the U.S. Department of Education, participated in a teleconference called Enhancing Education Through Technology. (NOTE: The new director of educational technology for the U.S. Department of Education  is Karen Cator.) Included: Information on federal technology grant programs.

Many educators may not realize that Enhancing Education Through Technology, part of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, provides assistance -- in the form of funds and guidance -- for improving technology proficiency among educators and increasing technology use in classrooms. That assistance is available at a time when, according to information from PLATO Learning, only 1/3 of teachers report that they feel prepared to use computers for classroom instruction, and 77 percent report spending 32 or fewer hours on technology-related professional development activities.

Bailey was joined in the teleconference by Dr. Walt Tobin, interim superintendent, Calhoun County, South Carolina, Public Schools; and Don Knezek, chief executive officer of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Click here to read Knezek's comments. Click here to read Tobin's comments.

John Bailey: The large message I want you to walk away with is that every education program found in No Child Left Behind is an opportunity for technology funding. Technology offers different solutions to help us accomplish very specific education goals. Whether it's Title I funds, Reading First, migrant education funds, teacher quality funds -- all of those different programs that, on the surface, don't look like education technology opportunities -- can be used to help fund technology tools, technology services, and even hardware and software, as long as they are aligned to the particular curriculum goals of those programs.

The most important thing to think about is what you want to do in terms of an educational goal, and the second is to ask how technology can help you either solve that educational challenge or help accomplish that education goal. If you can answer those two questions, then you should be able to find technology funding opportunities throughout No Child Left Behind.

The main program for technology funding through No Child Left Behind is Enhancing Education Through Technology [formerly the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund grant]. These funds are distributed through your state's Department of Education, which means you don't apply through the U.S. Department of Education. Half the funds are distributed according to a formula that's based on Title I participation; the other half is distributed through a competitive grant.

The other new requirement, which we think is very positive, is that at least 25 percent of the funds must be spent on professional development. That is a commitment to making sure that, along with the technology we're giving to teachers, we're also empowering teachers to use that technology effectively. The goals of the Enhancing Education Through Technology program are really to help student academic achievement through the use of technology in schools; to assist all students in becoming technology literate by the end of the eighth grade; and to encourage the effective integration of technology with teacher training and curriculum development to establish successful research-based instructional methods.

What we're intentionally trying to tell schools is that the focus should not be on technology for technology's sake. The focus shouldn't be on just increasing the number of computers or increasing the number of Internet connections. Those are important goals, but they are secondary to what really should be supporting a primary education goal. What we're encouraging schools to do is to align the education needs and goals of every school with the technology solutions they are trying to place inside the schools. Without that alignment, its actually going to cause a lot more frustration for teachers.

Among the frustrations we hear consistently from teachers, is not just frustration with the assessments themselves, but with the three or four months it normally takes for results to be delivered back to teachers. We think that technology offers a way for states to score those tests very fast, and return those results to teachers in a way that is useful. We are encouraging states to pursue online and computer-based assessments that can give the results in real time.

Also, we're looking at ways of sharing the results with other applications -- instructional applications -- as well as with teachers and parents, to help inform instruction and give them a road map to what to do with each one of those children to help bring them up to the academic standards. We're seeing a lot of teachers turning to technology-based solutions to do diagnostics, so when it comes time to take the state assessments, those teachers and those schools are not surprised with the results; they know going into the test where each one of those students is. It's also embedding these assessments within instructional software, so you get continuous feedback that customizes and personalizes the instruction for every students.

Another area is parental involvement. We're seeing a growing movement where schools are using different types of technology products and services to post a secure Web site, where parents can log on and check their children's grades, homework, attendance, and even comments from teachers. Where parent-teacher conferences used to be either quarterly or twice a year, now parents can be part of their children's education on a daily basis. The same way some parents check their stock portfolios daily, they can now check on their students' progress daily: 1) Did they come to school? and 2) How have they been performing?

The last area is expanding options; really looking at the use of distance learning, virtual schools, private charter schools, and online tutoring as a way of extending the school day, providing instruction and tutoring to students at home, and expanding the number of courses and types of courses the schools can offer. In many places, it is difficult for a school to offer AP courses to just three students; distance learning and virtual schools offer that opportunity.

Question: What are some methods for assessing teachers' integration of technology into the classroom? Have you seen any evidence that integration of technology has had a positive impact on student achievement?

Bailey: One of the challenges we have confronting us is how to assess teachers' integration of technology into the curriculum. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has put a lot of effort into setting technology standards for teachers, administrators, and students; now it is beginning work to assess some of those competencies. One of the things that we have to do as a nation -- from schools to states to the federal government, as well as the corporate sector -- is to look at new types of assessments. [We need] classroom observation tools that we can use just to assess where teachers are and where they can improve the integration of technology as part of their instructional strategies and curriculum.

[To answer your] second questionI think there is a growing body of research pointing to some pretty substantial ways technology is helping to improve student achievement. We're seeing this research fall into a number of different categories; from direct improvement of student achievement, to ways technology can help save teachers time by taking over a lot of menial tasks and automating them, so teachers have more time to spend on instruction. We're also seeing ways that technology is changing the environment of a classroom.

What we're doing at the Department [of Education] is investing in a number of new research studies to collect more empirical evidence, and doing this in a scientifically based manner to present to Congress, state legislators, governors, and other budget policy-makers evidence that technology is improving student achievement.

Question: We serve some homebound students and we're looking for ideas on how to provide access to the technology and curriculums delivered in the local classroom. Can you provide any recommendations?

Bailey: We're seeing a number of schools creating their own virtual schools as an extension of the traditional curriculum and the traditional courses that they are offering to students. They are doing this for two reasons: it gives them another opportunity for offering instructional opportunities to students who are homebound, or students in migrant families, or students in military families. It offers some continuity in the education of those students, so they get to be part of a class with the same teacher throughout the school year. I think, using some of these distance education tools in a more blended approach -- to help extend the school day and help reach some of these difficult to reach students, whether they are homebound students, home-schooled students, or students who are mobile -- is a great way to do that.

Question: I want to ask about these online assessments. I understand what Mr. Bailey is saying; it looks like a great way to get immediate results. But many of the states have gone to assessments that are not just true or false or multiple choice. In Missouri, we have short answers, and then we have kids actually do something. I'm not clear how that would be evaluated instantaneously online.

Bailey: There are a number of companies, including some of the major assessment companies, that are experimenting with some prototypes of technologies that can score essays. In the pilots we've been seeing in several states, the reader agreeability rates are in the high 80's or low 90's, which means it scores an essay about as well as a human reviewer does, but it does it in about 30 seconds, rather than the several weeks [the traditional method] takes. So several states are looking at those companies and those types of technologies as a way of helping to make those assessments richer, because it [testing] is getting beyond multiple choice and true or false.

In terms of the performance phase, that's a little more difficult; but we're seeing a number of states, and actually a number of schools, experimenting with online portfolios, where the program may not do it instantaneously, but it helps reduce the time it takes to mail student work between reviewers. The biggest problem we're seeing with portfolios right now is crafting them with an assessment instrument in which the reviewer agreeability rate is both valid and reliable among all the different reviewers. The second big problem is the cost effectiveness of doing these portfolios, and sharing them among reviewers online. One of the great opportunities, we think, is exploring the next generation of assessments and the next generation of portfolios that can be done using technology.

Question: I have developed electronic portfolios and use them here in the district. Do you know of any other districts that have used them and done it successfully? I haven't actually implemented it yet.

Bailey: I know that Vermont was looking at electronic portfolios. High Tech High, in California, which is a charter school, is doing some things with technology as well.

If you had asked if we could have implemented this law successfully ten years ago, I don't think we could have. The reason we can today is because of the technology tools that are out there that help support, enable, or empower the different types of accountability in instructional reform that No Child Left Behind sets forth. Adequate yearly progress, report cards, assessments, identifying schools in need of improvement, disaggregating data, evaluating program impact, and providing richer data for analysis purposes all are different opportunities for technology to help drive decision-making and to help inform instruction at the local level.


This e-interview with John Bailey is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.


Article by Ellen R. Delisio
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