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   DataBus - Vol 41 No. 6: October-November, 2001
Spotlight on Technology

The following story of the Technology Literacy Challenge (TLC) grant implementation in Santa Barbara Elementary School District was written by Kristine White, writer and driving force behind the successful grant.
When the Technology literacy Challenge Grant provided an opportunity to secure educational technology funding for fourth to eighth grade students, the Santa Barbara School district employed one of its "high tech" teachers to write the grant. The question before them was, "How might we best utilize this funding to support those who most need an educational boost?" Given that the grant had to address either reading/ language arts and/or math, reading and language arts were selected. The district was in the midst of a major drive to improve those curricular areas and the project aligned with the district's goals.
The choice was either to spread the funding across the entire fourth to eighth population and schools, or to focus more intensively on a select portion of that group. The latter was chosen with the idea of targeting a specific need, incorporating significant technology, and (if it worked), replicating it. Since reading was to be addressed, it seemed most appropriate to work with the youngest grade the grant allowed, which was fourth. The students targeted were those known to be at highest academic risk; those scoring in the bottom quartile for reading when exiting third grade.
The Project was entitled "English Propulsion Lab" or EPL, because in the Santa Barbara district, most of the struggling readers are also English learners. The project design was oriented around "EPL Labs," identical three- to six- workstation mini-computer labs installed in the classrooms of participating teachers. Everything from the desktop to the software was identical across the district's EPL Labs, which was made training and technical support easier.
Teachers became involved at the point of determining how the labs would be used. The first meeting was largely a day of reviewing software from a selection previously reviewed by the project director. Selecting from this list was easier and less overwhelming than choosing from all titles available. After review, teachers chose Don Johnston's Start-to-Finish books as the core of the EPL program, supported by Kid Pix Studio Deluxe and AppleWorks, later adding Inspiration. Involving the teachers in the early stages of design built a cohesive team spirit, and understanding of what we were trying to accomplish.
The final design of the EPL curriculum required that teachers schedule their classes so that EPL students could work independently on the computers 30 minutes per day, four days per week. During that time, they would use a checklist as to what they were to accomplish. Normally this would include doing two chapters of their Start to Finish book, completing an accompanying packet that included vocabulary, comprehension, and writing exercises related to the book, and then complete a project, such as drawing the setting, or making a web of the concepts in the chapter.
The project design included a Project Coordinator who was charged with all administrative, technical, and training components of the project. There was a person available who possessed both technical and training skills, and that person installed, maintained, and ran the project for its duration. Weekly visits kept the teachers focused on the project and addressed their technical needs. While technical support was quick, we did learn that not including the district technicians in the loop was a mistake because it tended to make the project overly dependent on the project director.
Assessment was based on SAT-9 reading and language score improvement, and interim assessment was available with Star Reading assessment software and tests built into the Don Johnston product. Greatest gains were seen among those students who came into the EPL with the higher scores, such as 20th percentile as opposed to 3rd percentile. While the lowest-scoring students may have doubled their scores, some students who began in the 20th percentile group posted up to 50 percentile point gains. It appeared that the EPL and the double dose of language experience it provided was of greatest benefit to capable students who entered the fourth grade with an English language deficiency. Students hindered by learning disabilities seemed to benefit somewhat less.
Factors that helped assure the success of this program included on-going staff development for teachers, using identical hardware and software, providing adequate technical support and meeting on a regular basis. The abundant time on the computers was very motivating for many EPL students, and they developed technology skills along with reading skills and increased self-esteem as a result of being very good at something in their school environment. Students were more motivated and excited about being at school. Having a project coordinator to schedule and run meetings, visit classrooms, and keep the project on track was another success.
While SAT scores showed increases and other district assessments showed positive results, measuring the success of a technology-based program with traditional measures couldn't begin to indicate the good that the program did in terms of motivation, success, and critical thinking skills of EPL participants.
For more information about this program, please contact Kristine White, Santa Barbara Elementary School District, (805) 962-7157.

Dr. Joyce Hinkson is an Education Programs Consultant for the California Department of Education's Education Technology Office. She may be reached at (916) 323-2241 or by e-mail at