Taking the Leap into Meeting State Standards
By Lorie Ann Lee • Technology Coordinator, Cheney Elementary, Orlando, Florida
with help from Cheney teachers Sarah McKee and Margie Martinez
MultiMedia Schools • September 2002
Editor's Note: The promise of educational technology seems to have a reservation scheduled for late arrival in far too many classrooms. While IT has provided ways of doing what we've always done, in many cases faster, better, cheaper, stories of how IT has enabled teachers to do what simply was not possible before are rare. With No Child Left Behind raising the stakes for technology and traditional approaches alike, there is no more important role for technology than providing a window into student performance that can shape the improvement of that performance. The adaptation of LeapPad from an innovative learning toy to a prescriptive/analytical classroom tool delivers on the promise of technology and raises the bar for everyone in the educational technology industry. Here's the view of how it all works in the classroom.
—Ferdi Serim

Several Cheney teachers are leaping through classroom assessment with a new system called LeapTrack—an assessment and instruction system from LeapFrog SchoolHouse [http://www.leapfrog
for grades K-5 that individualizes learning by diagnosing student performance and prescribing individualized, standards-based instructional content. The LeapTrack system helps teachers use assessment to:

  • group students
  • monitor student progress in relation to state standards
  • find the appropriate level of difficulty for each learner
  • prepare students to master skills tested on high-stakes testing

The LeapTrack system delivers supplementary instruction in reading, language arts, and mathematics on the popular LeapPad platform with the added capability to track performance on a classroom PC. As our students complete their assessment or work on the LeapPad, their performance results are captured on a "writeable" LeapPad cartridge. Students and teachers can then remove the cartridge and upload the information to their computers for reporting purposes.

Cheney Elementary School is located in Orlando, Florida, and has a student population of approximately 738 urban students that is 43 percent white, 8 percent black, 46 percent Hispanic, and 3 percent multicultural. The average class size in K-5 is 25. Weekly, students enter and withdraw from school. Cheney continues to have a high percentage of Exceptional Student Education (ESE) and bilingual transfers. Our fluctuating, 50 percent mobility rate, which is higher than the district average, is primarily due to our low-socioeconomic families moving from one rental home to another. This impacts our test scores in reading, writing, and math. Sixty-six percent of these students are on the free/reduced lunch program, qualifying us for Title l status. Because of these factors, we needed both an accurate way to assess students who come into our classes, and a fun, reliable tool to help teach them their basic skills. The LeapTrack system has met the challenge!

We were chosen by LeapFrog SchoolHouse to participate in LeapTrack's national beta-test field study along with approximately 55 other classrooms. As technology coordinator, when I first saw the LeapTrack system over a year ago, I immediately signed our school up to be considered for the beta-testing. Many of our students come from homes in which computers and technology are a rarity. In an attempt to bridge this digital divide between our students and others, we are always searching for worthwhile technology to enhance their learning. The classes chosen for the field study were Mrs. McKee's second grade and Ms. Martinez' third grade.

Sarah McKee's second grade class has 22 students. There are seven students who receive special services outside of the classroom: three speech, three specific learning disabilities, and one gifted student. The class is made up of varying instructional levels, with approximately six students working below grade level, five working above grade level, and 11 students working on grade level. In Margie Martinez's third grade, there are 22 students, 13 boys and nine girls. Nine of her students receive special services outside of the classroom: five speech and four with specific learning disabilities. The class' instructional levels include seven students working below grade level, 12 working on grade level, and five working above grade level. With so many varying levels and abilities, we felt this class would be a good test of the product.

Sarah McKee explains the changes like this:

LeapTrack has changed my classroom in such a positive way! With half of my students using the LeapPads during our daily "centers," I am able to work more closely with a small group of students or an individual. LeapTrack also assures me that those students using the LeapPads are working on their individual levels on material they have been prescribed. Before LeapTrack, I was frequently being pulled away from my small group to help other students with their center work. With LeapTrack I'm able to stay with my group because the students don't have any questions—the book/cards guide them through all activities! Because the students can load their own cartridges, get their LeapPads and headphones, and begin and end working on their own, I am able to help the rest of the class. I don't need to do anything for them as far as working on the LeapPads. I'm able to have more time to review the assessments they have completed and keep track of their progress. LeapTrack has really had a huge impact in my classroom as far as having more time to focus on small group/individual instruction.

Making the Move to Technology-Assisted Assessment
To get us started, a LeapFrog trainer came to our school and spent half the day with each of us. He helped us unpack the materials, which included 12 LeapPads with headphones, a LeapPort (used to download instruction and assessment content onto the cartridges), one "writeable" cartridge for each child, a box of assessment books, and a box of instructional content, including reading and math books as well as phonics cards. After the materials were unpacked, we installed the program onto each classroom computer, learned how to download books onto cartridges, and then introduced the students to the LeapPads. We were pleased to learn that a number of our students had seen or used a LeapPad before, either at home or when they went to a store. The children had no problem learning how to use the LeapPads, and all were very excited to use them in class.

Our next task was to figure out a way to implement the LeapPads into our day. We wanted to make sure students worked on them at least twice a day (once for reading, once for math). We decided the easiest way to incorporate the LeapPads into our morning was during our language arts/reading stations time. While the students are rotating through the different activities, up to 12 of them are working on a LeapPad. They only work on a reading or language arts book or card during this time. It did not take long for our students to learn the routine of using the LeapPads. It's now automatic for them to get their cartridge, take their book or card, get a LeapPad withheadphones, and begin working. They know where to return the materials when they're finished.

When the students are finished, we upload their performance results from the morning activity and then download a new book for math, which they do in the afternoon. This takes no more than 15 minutes. They are assigned a time to use the LeapPad, and as of this writing, not one child has ever missed his or her time. In fact, they're usually asking to use it more!

Students are quite vocal with their reactions. Says Rachel, "I think LeapPads are cool because it's like a teacher is there with you, helping you and explaining it to you, but she isn't. You realize that you've done it by yourself and then you're proud of yourself." Another, Vianca, portrays the power of integrated audio and assessment quite simply: "The LeapPad even helped me to understand words that are too long and too hard to read."

Technology Opening Windows on Student Performance
One of the most powerful features about LeapTrack is its reporting. There are several student reports, including a Student Survey Report, which gives feedback on each student's assessment results; the State Standards Results Report, which tells you the state standards a student has met or not met; and a Student Learning Path, which prescribes books/cards to each student according to their assessment results. There are also Class reports, including the Class Survey Results Report and the State Standards Results by Class. The reports we've found the most helpful are the State Standards by Student Report and the Student Learning Path Report.

The State Standards Results by Student lists the statewide standards each student has met. Using this report, we're able to group students according to the standards they continue to need work on. This report has really affected our daily guided-reading groups because it's an easy way to group students according to their individual needs. It's also helped us make sure we're teaching all of the state standards to each child based on his/her needs.

The Student Learning Path Report is generated based on students' reading, language arts, and math assessment results and lists specific instructional books and cards that match each student's personalized needs. This report has been really helpful in individualizing our work with each child. With each of our classes working on so many different levels, it's always been very difficult to accommodate each child's needs. This report tells you which books and cards to assign each child and then serves as the starting point for students to begin working on this "prescription" at their own pace.

Margie Martinez has this to say:

Having the LeapTrack system in the classroom has been a real advantage. Thanks to the assessments I am able to identify which of my students are meeting the state standards and which ones aren't. I have gained a better understanding of the standards and am able to identify which students are meeting them. Before LeapTrack I gave teacher-made or out-of-book assessments, and that did not really tell me if my students were or were not meeting the state standards for their grade level. The LeapTrack system has made me aware of the state standards and has given me the necessary tools to have all my students meet those for their grade level. I am able to individualize instruction more efficiently and have students work only on the skills in which they are deficient. The LeapTrack system provides remediation, practice, enrichment, and challenge to all students. It is a great tool to meet each individuallearner's needs by identifying the skills needing improvement and prescribing a specific learning path for each student.

Utilizing all of the reports that LeapTrack has to offer, we've been able to improve our instructional time tremendously. When we pull the reports for our guided reading groups, the reports comprise another tool we use to identify student needs as they relate to the Sunshine State Standards. We are also assured that students who are not working directly with us (and are using a LeapPad) are not getting frustrated, because their learning path has assigned them a book or card that is exactly at the appropriate level.

As an assessment tool, the LeapTrack system is extremely helpful. It provides the children with all the time and audio assistance they need to successfully complete each assessment. It keeps track of how long each student takes to finish an assessment, his or her correct and incorrect answers, and how much audio assistance was requested to decode question items. What we enjoy most about LeapTrack's assessment capabilities is that the results are available to us instantaneously. In a matter of seconds, we can see each child's assessment results. This helps not only in determining whether students are on grade level, but also for tailoring instruction to each child's individual needs. This has a profound result on how students see themselves, as well as how they approach learning. In the words of Dylan, "I like to use the LeapPad a lot and I want one for my house so I can learn more. If you don't like to learn, then get the LeapPad because the LeapPad makes it fun to learn."

All of LeapTrack's assessments are based on meeting state standards, so we know each child is gaining the valuable information and exposure needed to master each state standard and to eventually succeed on the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test), our high-stakes state assessment. The LeapTrack system also has math and reading FCAT practice assessments that resemble the content and format of the actual test. These will be very useful tools both to prepare students for the FCAT and to succeed at having each student meet our state standards.

We feel extremely fortunate to have been chosen to be part of the LeapTrack Field Study. We have gained valuable information about assessing and grouping our students for instruction and believe we have prepared them to succeed in all aspects of reading (decoding, fluency, and comprehension). Even more important, we've found that our students—even the ones who at one time didn't like reading—are the ones who don't miss a session on LeapTrack. It's an amazing tool that helps us, as teachers, to foster a love of reading and technology in our students.

[Author's Note: I'd like to express my gratitude to Cheney Elementary teachers Sarah McKee and Margie Martinez for their help in writing this article.]

Communications to the author may be addressed to Lorie Ann Lee, Technology Coordinator, Cheney Elementary, Orlando, FL; e-mail: leel@ocps.k12.fl.us.

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