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2007 Evaluation of the Kent Technology Academy 2005-2007

Date: 2007
Author: Karen E. Banks, Ph.D.
Affiliation: Kent School District, Data Detectives
Keywords: laptops, evaluation, technology, implementation


The Kent Technology Academy (KTA) operated during the school years 2005-06 and 2006-07 as a school-within-a-school magnet program on the Mill Creek Middle School campus. KTA students participated in a technology-rich, smaller learning community for their core academic classes, while taking P.E. and elective classes from those offered to the entire Mill Creek student population. This evaluation focuses on the results of the program after two years of operation. During the period encompassed by this evaluation, each KTA student received a tablet computer, both for use at school and to take home. The KTA program employed a variety of other technology tools, such as video cameras, digital cameras, and learning management software.

The program also used various teaching approaches that are currently considered best practice:

* Cooperative approaches to learning

* Project-based instruction Individualized and differentiated instruction

* Sustained writing opportunities

* Integration of subject matter

* High expectations for every student

Key Findings:

* By every measure examined in this study, the KTA program has been successful.

* As planned, the first two cohorts of KTA students resembled the population of Kent School District as a whole. This is important because, in light of the other findings below, it indicates that the program can work for a diverse group of learners.

* The program is attracting students to the Mill Creek campus; in fact, interest in the program exceeds the available seats.

* Some aspects of the KTA program appear to have benefited the entire Mill Creek campus. Mill Creek students' technology skills and school climate, specifically, appeared to be stronger than for the district as a whole.

* Achievement of KTA students on the WASL exceeded the performance of the overall district and of the state as a whole.

* If KTA were a school rather than a program, the achievement of KTA students would have caused it to be ranked as the top or second school in the Kent School District-in every subject tested with the WASL, at both grades 7 and 8, and on the state's Technology Literacy Survey, a standardized self-report instrument.

* KTA students' high achievement appears to be due, at least in large part, to increases in their achievement since entering KTA, and not solely due to their prior achievement.

* Students in KTA (and in some Mill Creek classes using technology) were highly engaged in their school work. In interviews with and observations of KTA students, they were excited about their projects and the strong support from their teachers.

* The teachers in KTA were exceptional--both in terms of their commitment and hard work in the beginning of KTA and their high skill level, but also in terms of their dedication to and rapport with their students. While some of this rapport may have been due to the ?smaller learning community? aspects of the program, the original selection process for hiring KTA teachers was also quite rigorous. KTA teachers were observed to be flexible and creative; they had high expectations and positive approaches to classroom management.

* KTA teachers received a great deal of training and they reported that this training had been useful in implementing the approaches used in KTA. A review of this training indicates it encompassed many topics considered to be best practice and was not just focused on technology use.

* Technical support for the program and administrative support from the school and central office was strong, both at the beginning and throughout the first two years. Teachers and students in KTA expressed their appreciation for this support.

* While technology tools will probably always have technology malfunctions, some basic technical problems can now be addressed by KTA students themselves, which allows for both a quicker solution and for advanced technical support to be focused on the more complex problems.

Opportunities for Improvement:

* The hardware and software glitches at the beginning of the program were probably inevitable, but long-term hardware questions remain to be explored, both in terms of equipment durability and cost. Currently, vendors are not offering products that would meet the optimal needs of KTA.

* In the first two years of the program, students who left KTA before the end of 8th grade essentially left an unfilled seat. For fall 2007, empty seats in 8th grade were offered to students from the waiting list established during the lottery process. The new students were provided with an orientation and training to help integrate them into the program.

* Many students reported that while they enjoyed their schoolwork and class projects, including their homework projects, they volunteered that there were times when they felt stressed about finishing projects on time and to the standards they and their teachers had set for them. Although teachers encouraged students not to let schoolwork interfere with a good night's sleep, the seventh grade students in particular reported that this could be difficult for them. KTA staff may wish to explore how to manage the workload for students, including due dates. In addition, KTA staff can ensure that expectations about the assignments are clear and that every project that tightly aligns with the curriculum. (Alignment is one of the ongoing challenges of project-based approaches to learning.)

* Staffing for the program is one key to KTA's success. An unexpected vacancy in early 2006-07 indicated a need to plan for at least some training of new staff members who start after the school year, even if the new staff member is not a permanent hire.

Source Article: http://bit.ly/JlvZ5a