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Magazines > MultiMedia Schools > January/February 2003
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Vol. 10 No. 1 — Jan/Feb 2003
The Online Educator
All Aboard! Moving Every Child Ahead in a Digital Age
by Ferdi Serim

NCLB and the Big Picture: Challenges and Opportunities
These two words best capture the times we are experiencing. Unfortunately, panic has typified the initial response to the requirement that Scientifically Based Research (SBR) form the foundation for educational interventions. Vendors are apprehensive that the scarcity of defensible evidence may render their products ineligible for purchase. Schools, fearful of the consequences of failure to meet Adequate Yearly Progress requirements, seek to design interventions guided by research that doesn't yet exist.

Strategies that seemed to work fine year in and year out are showing signs of eroding confidence when examined in the stark light of evidence and rising stakes. This is as true for those who use educational products as it is for those who provide them. Yet beyond the sobering experience of taking a fresh look at practices and products, to see them as they really are, education leaders gain power by acquiring reliable information about the needs of all their students to see what is working to meet these needs. When they work closely with schools that understand how and why those products work, vendors gain power by developing products and services that help to improve student performance. 

Shifting to a basis of evidence does not mean that we must discard everything we've done or all that we know. It simply means that we will use the power of inquiry to identify interventions based on improvements that are observable. These scientific methods allow us to see what's working for groups of students who have historically been left behind by eliminating alternative explanations, replicating results across multiple observers, and subjecting results to peer review.

We can meet these challenges and seize the opportunities by addressing three key components: Accountability, Learning, and Leadership. Three key sectors of society determine whether these efforts will succeed: Education, Business, and Government.

Fortunately, groups like the Consortium for School Networking, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), and SETDA (State Educational Technology Directors Association) are working to build bridges between these sectors to provide new opportunities for strategic partnerships. This article explores opportunities for action at the local level that are strengthened by such partnerships.

The I&T Team: Achieving Effective Use of Technology Tools
Under No Child Left Behind, everyone is accountable, but schools are more so, because the "hammer" of consequences is poised to fall on them. While decisions about program and purchases are required to be grounded in scientifically based evidence, only the schools will feel the pain of the consequences for failing to meet Adequate Yearly Progress requirements. Responses to this challenge fall into two general categories:

• Teach to the test (in an effort to raise test scores by limiting instruction to items included on state-mandated high stakes tests)

• Teach to the need (use test data to identify learning gaps and adjust instruction accordingly)

By now it is difficult to find any product that doesn't proclaim itself to be based on (SBR) and until the What Works Clearinghouse produces its first results later this year, those claims are likely to persist unchallenged. The recently funded What Works Clearinghouse is a 5-year project that will validate the quality of educational research that supports product claims. However, rigorous review of this magnitude will take time, and it may be a year before we can turn to this source for guidance in developing our plans. Vendors are gearing up to provide SBR as well, by collecting and categorizing existing research foundations for products and approaches, by constructing research portfolios for specific technologies or technology-based approaches, and in some cases, by conducting original research that meets the SBR criteria.

Meanwhile, parallel trends are already visible regarding the locus of purchasing decisions: these decisions are moving out of the school. A review of the QED National Education Database found that the number of schools identified as site-based has declined by 20 percent from 2 years ago. Increasingly, decisions about educational technology purchases are migrating from the library/media center/school level to the superintendent/CIO/district and even statewide levels. Yet, even more disturbing is the finding that Dale Mann reported at EdNet 2002: When there is no local "buy-in" to the selection of software and/or products, often up to 50 percent of these purchases arrive but are never used at the schools.

As each member of your I&T Team works through their areas of responsibility touched by No Child Left Behind, you can develop a consensus of purpose to inform and guide decisions. These include decisions about how to use the technology you already have, as well as what capabilities you seek from the range of available choices. Once you've identified your needs, you can focus on the particular research that supports the contending products. (This topic will be explored in the March/April 2003 issue of MMS through a feature about Timber Drive Elementary School in Garner, North Carolina, where the Information & Technology (I&T) Team performs this and other vital roles as the hub of learning for the school.)

Just as QED provides the education industry with timely, accurate data analysis, schools need to develop these capabilities to analyze their own data in a meaningful way. Help is available in doing so. enGauge: Data-Driven Decision Making and Accountability: What Does It Look Like in Practice? [] is a great resource. enGauge suggests, "More data does not necessarily translate directly into better decisions. In fact, too much information can be as much of a handicap as too little, if it is not used well. Systematic use of data to improve teaching and learning requires leadership, training, and the development of a culture of use." As Mike Schmoker, author of Results: The Key to Continuous Improvement (Schmoker, 1999), puts it, schools need to move away from "continually adopting innovations" and instead "collectively focus on goals and regularly measure the impact of the methods."

Revisiting the foundational concepts of the scientific processes of inquiry, in the light of their implications for education leadership, can greatly reduce the anxiety and paralysis afflicting far too many schools (and publishers) today. The National Research Council has identified six characteristics for SBR. Procedures based on these scientific processes should do the following:

• Pose significant questions, which are observable.

• Link to relevant theory in developing a hypothesis.

• Use tools that are valid for addressing the questions.

• Rule out counter explanations of observed evidence.

• Replicate findings across groups and observers.

• Submit results and processes to the scrutiny of colleagues and the public.

As you work with vendors to decide about your educational technology purposes from these perspectives, it is important to ask four key questions:
• What is the research foundation for this intervention?

• How do these practices demonstrate the application of research to improved instruction?

• What's the recommended dosage (what duration and frequency of interaction with the materials are required to produce the targeted levels of student improvement)?

• What assessment design strategies work best to provide relevant evidence of effectiveness?

Accountability: Ideas for Action
The (I&T) team at the building level can prevent the disconnect between buying and benefit. Borrowing from the roles described in Information Technology for Learning: No School Left Behind, the Principal (Pilot), Library/Media Specialist (Scholar), Teacher Leader (Guide) and Technical Specialist (Hard Hat) each have vital contributions to keeping Accountability on track for learning.

Meeting these challenges is fundamentally a knowledge management problem: Information concerning the progress of subgroups specified in the legislation exists at your school, but it is typically fragmented and difficult to synthesize into meaningful trends. For example, data must be disaggregated into the following subgroups:

• Gender

• Each major racial and ethnic group

• English proficiency status

• Migrant status

• Students with disabilities compared to all other students

• Economically disadvantaged students compared to students who are not economically disadvantaged

It is one thing to know how many students you have in each of these groups. It is quite another to know who they are and what their teachers are doing to prepare them to succeed on the tests. Since the unit of measure for accountability is the school, the Principal, as Pilot, owns responsibility for these actions. The I&T team members who can help the most in applying the power of technology to this knowledge management problem are the Scholar and the Guide.

Tools such as "Data Connections: Using Assessments to Improve Teaching and Learning"from the Appalachia Educational Laboratory (AEL) represent an important example of how the I&T team can help to assist the entire school with accountability [see]. The I&T team can help teachers to analyze and interpret standardized test data, use data to plan for effective instruction, develop classroom assessments that align with standards, and prepare students to perform at their best on standardized tests. The bottom line: Your I&T Team is now in the research business to determine which of your efforts is most effective for students.

Learning: Harnessing the Power of IT
It is important not to confuse accountability with learning. Learning in the 21st century goes far beyond the "cutoff score" design of accountability measures, as well as the capabilities of existing measurement tools. We must design for this higher standard, to properly serve every child and strengthen every school.

Signs are encouraging. QED data show impressive gains in the spread of technology throughout K-12. Today, access to the Internet for teachers and students is nearly ubiquitous (98.8 percent for teachers, 95.5 percent for students in school, with 93.8 percent for teachers and 83.1 percent for students in classrooms). The figure for teachers with school e-mail accounts has grown from 68.2 percent to 85.3 percent in the last 2 years, and more than half of these can access their school e-mail from home. Districts are starting to provide Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) to educators (mostly administrators). Teachers' use of the Internet in teaching has grown from 75.7 percent to 90.3 percent in the past 2 years. Even the portion of this use with students in the classroom has grown to 58 percent.

However, there is a great difference between "buying stuff" and "using stuff" to produce improved student results. As one participant at the recent EdNet 2002 conference said, "Beware of vendors bearing solutions!" Rather, seek vendors who see themselves as partners in discovering and supporting applications of technology that are designed to address local problems and priorities.

Enter the Learning Management System (LMS). The foundational concept for an LMS is making the right data available, to the people who need it, by their preferred method, at the right time. The needs of different users center on their different purposes, ways they use the data, and environments in which they work. Computers are not the only way people interact with information. Parents might need access by phone or in print. Administrators might need access from anywhere in the school district. Teachers might need access from home as well as their classroom. The network must be designed to support each user and their needs, in order to remove barriers to their participation and contributions.

No matter what you call them, no matter which combination of capabilities they offer, there are four key elements that a successful Learning Management System provides:

• Instruction

• Assessment

• Communication

• Professional Development

Did students learn the targeted standards? Who did this lesson reach; do I need to rethink it? Do students remember what they studied last semester? Are some students ready tomove on to the next lesson? Do some kids meet their learning goals more consistently when they share their progress with the rest of the class? What strategies have other teachers used successfully to meet challenges similar to those of students we're having trouble reaching now? Each of these questions touches all four aspects that must be addressed by a comprehensive LMS.

There are a growing number of examples of vendors who have incorporated extensive research into the design of their LMS products in ways that both challenge learners and provide teachers with real-time performance data that can shape instruction. Here are three to consider.

Scholastic's READ 180 is a powerful example of technology-based reading intervention that has been proven effective in raising the achievement of struggling readers across varied student populations. Based on more than a decade of scientifically based research and standards-aligned, Scholastic READ 180 is a highly motivating program that provides intensive daily instruction for at-risk students in grades 4 through 12, including individualized reading instruction on computers; high-interest reading materials for independent and modeled reading practice; small group instruction with the teacher; and ongoing assessment. The READ 180 software includes a sophisticatedmanagement system that collects data based on individual student work, adjusts lessons to meet each student's needs, and creates detailed reports for teachers that inform their instruction. READ 180 is currently used in over 2,000 schools nationwide, and The National Center on Education and the Economy has recommended its use in its more than 450 America's Choice schools across the country. America's Choice schools utilize a standards-based school design that focuses on achieving results using assessments, delivering sound, research-based instructional programs, and implementing an organizational system of planning and management all aligned to standards.

Pearson Education Technologies' High Stakes Management component of SuccessMaker goes beyond accountability compliance. Steve Gardner writes, "To meet rigorous accountability requirements, educators need to see more than just a mapping of curriculum content to state standards. They need to see student progress through the curriculum as it pertains to performance on standardized tests—and they need to see it in real time, not months later." The ultimate aim of High Stakes Management is to help schools monitor and manage student achievement on high-stakes tests while promoting the genuine learning required by broad educational standards. For more information, see Pearson Education Technologies' white paper on the MultiMedia Schools Web site at

The LMS built into Riverdeep products is powerful and innovative. While it is increasingly common for Web-based products to align their instruction with state standards and measure student growth that happens while students are interacting with a vendor's curriculum, Riverdeep's offerings bring together a school district's intellectual property, as embodied in its curriculum, lessons, and the practices of its staff. Their Destination Math and Destination Reading programs have the potential to integrate with every other aspect of the school's practice, collecting data and feeding it back as needed, on demand.

The bottom line: It's how you use the tools you have to reach your educational vision, rather than how many tools you have in inventory.

Leadership: Making IT Work for Sustained Support
Leadership's first priority is to decide how to accomplish the closely related goals of Accountability and Learning, by assembling the support, resources, and civic participation to make your school a place where learning demonstrably exceeds accountability performance goals. Every member of the I&T team is an instructional leader for the school. But schools require processes and partners to accomplish this mission. The Consortium for School Networking is a valuable source of each type of support. See the Sidebar on page 17.

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN): A Resource for School Leaders
In the early 1990s, forward-looking educators concluded that K-12 schools lacked an effective national voice to address the use of telecommunications and information technologies. In 1992, these educators incorporated a new nonprofit organization called the Consortium for School Networking, or CoSN. Today, CoSN continues its mission: to serve as the premier national voice for promoting use of the Internet and telecommunications to improve K-12 learning. Here is why your district should be a member, if it is not already: CoSN is the one place that brings together all three sectors for conversation leading to purposeful action: Education, Business and Government.

Your school and district can derive great benefit from CoSN membership, because its audience is made up of leaders in K-12 education who make technology decisions. As it has in other areas of society, technology has become a strategic resource in elementary and secondary education. For that reason, CoSN believes that technology decisions cannot be left to technologists alone. People not directly responsible for technology must participate in decision making, and to do this, they must have the knowledge required to make intelligent, well-informed decisions about what technologies to acquire and how to use them in their schools. Moreover, only when the voice of school leaders informs and aligns with leaders in business and government is any coherent, sustainable effort possible. Leadership is not just something that happens "inside the Beltway," and No Child Left Behind has shifted the center of power out to 50 state capitals and local school districts as never before.

CoSN's Public Policy Leadership Network is building a grass-roots network of advocates for investment in education technology. Network participants receive training in the best approach to educate and inform decision makers, as well as timely alerts on pending federal issues. Most important, they provide the bridge between what's going in the schools and classrooms across America and the legislative offices inside the Beltway. The annual CoSN conference highlights the best practices from a diverse group of leading districts. This year's theme is Achievement, Assessment, Accountability. (The conference runs February 23-27 in Washington, DC. See for more information.)

CoSN continues to build upon its successful history of providing vendor-neutral analyses and advice to K-12schools about technology-related issues. Its "Taking Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) to the Classroom" [] and "Safeguarding the Wired Schoolhouse"[] projects are but two examples of the leadership role that CoSN plays in educational technology. The TCO initiative takes concepts pertaining to budgeting for technology developed in the business community, then modifies and applies them to the elementary and secondary school settings. The "Safeguarding the Wired Schoolhouse" effort lays out various management choices pertaining to inappropriate access to information on the Internet in a vendor-neutral manner.

Conclusion: Winning Teams Know Their Roles
Is our teaching effective? Who's being left behind? Which skills must our teachers master next in order to help students move ahead? How can we prepare students for mandated assessments without tunnel-vision teaching-to-the-test? How can we begin to collect benefit from the dollars we've invested in education technology? How are we going to get the money, the time, and the talented people we need to sustain improvement?

Questions like these are the fuel that propels I&T teams at schools where IT works in the service of learning. Meeting the challenges of No Child Left Behind is fundamentally an information-based problem. The people with the expertise to address this problem are already at your school: the principal, library/mediaspecialist, lead teachers, and technical specialists. As in sports, each position has a specific job, but no matter how skilled the person is at their job, they will never have a championship team unless every player understands the roles of the other players and how they relate to each other. When we apply the expertise found in these roles to the tasks of Accountability, Learning, and Leadership, we are ready to begin building the relationships and expertise required to thrive in 21st century learning environments.


Ferdi Serim, co-founder of the Online Internet Institute, is editor of Information Today, Inc.'s MultiMedia Schools magazine and as well as editor of the Big6 eNewsletter. He is author of NetLearning: Why Teachers Use the Internet and From Computers to Community: Unlocking the Potentials of the Wired Classroom. He presents keynotes and seminars throughout the U.S. as well as internationally; phone: 905/690-6039; fax: 505/466-1901; e-mail:

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