Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Program Evaluation of 1:1 Environments

More food for thought from the day at Newell-Fonda...

At a couple different times during the day, one member asked a good question: what is the impact of the 1:1 on student achievement. The Newell-Fonda district, of course can't answer that quantitatively, being that they just started implementation at the beginning of the year. And while teachers indicated they saw improvement in student's performance in their own courses, critics could counter by arguing that's subjective data from a partial source.

Leaving Newell, I had a conversation with Steve Linduska, a colleague of mine at Heartland. One of the things we discussed is the interesting dynamic of a 1:1. You have an empassioned district (and in this case, partnering with an empassioned vendor, Apple). And at this district, the superintendent is also the high school principal, and probably has half a dozen other hats, like curriculum, public relations, school finance, and running the scoreboard at athletic events. Simply put, you don't have someone who can take an objective look at whether it is working, because they are too involved.

But as Steve pointed out, that's just half the dynamic. The other half is how this would be measured, which in Iowa, has been resoundedly via ITEDs. But, the benefits of a 1:1 do not appear solely (or I'd suggest even primarily) in ITEDs. What about visual literacy? Creativity? Synthesization? Presentational skills? Adaptability and problem solving? Not bubble friendly.

Mark Pullen put this well:

I think one of the biggest unspoken messages that No Child Left Behind has sent to teachers and students across the country is this: If something can’t be easily benchmarked, it isn’t worth teaching or learning.

The trouble is that most of the things that really matter in education (and life) aren’t benchmarkable.

Jeff Dicks, the Newell Superintendent, hit on that as well, as he replied that a junior in his school had suddenly taken a career interest in information technology, which doesn't appear in a bubble sheet.

Yet, it is essential that we do evaluate our programs to know if they are working, and do so objectively, authentically. I'd edit Pullen's last statement to say "The trouble is most of the things that really matter in education aren't easily benchmarkable". They still must be measured. What are assessments we can create that measure this reliably? This is more than just Newell-Fonda's task, it is Iowa's (and the nation's).

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