District: So far, so good with students taking iPads home
A $1.3 billion project fraught with controversy and a long list of disappointing results produced its first positive news in some time yesterday, as LA Unified reported a high level of success and satisfaction at a handful of schools where students were allowed to take home their district-issued iPads and other digital tablets.
Members of the district's Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Committee watched a video that featured students and staff at Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences in Granada Hills, one of three schools allowing tablets to go home, gushing about how their educational experience had improved.
"The minute that you let students take the iPad home, all of the sudden more work gets turned in," Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences teacher Judith Quinones said in the video.
Students in the video told stories of coordinating their homework better, hauling fewer books around and communicating easier with their teachers when outside of class. Teachers spoke of increased engagement with students and a higher level of homework assignments being completed.
The video was part of a report on the results of the phase 1 rollout of the take-home project that was presented to the committee by Gerardo Loera, executive director of Curriculum, Instruction & School Support at LA Unified. (See the video embedded below.)
The video was purely anecdotal, and the district has yet to produce hard data or reports on whether using the devices at home is increasing student achievement. But it did provide evidence of positive results.
"The full instructional value of these devices, in particular at the secondary level, can only be fully realized when they go home," Loera said.
Loera said eight more schools are set to begin sending devices home through next month.
Loera said 90 percent of students at the three schools had opted to take the devices home, a process that requires each student and a legal guardian to sign papers taking responsibility for it. According to the video, only one device was damaged and two were misplaced — but later recovered.
While committee chair Monica Ratliff and some of her colleagues had once expressed concern about the devices leaving campuses, none voiced any further concern at the meeting, as questions and comments were focused simply on the details of the take-home project.
Board member Bennett Kayser did wonder if the video included only positive comments from students and staff.
"Were there any partcipants who didn't want to be in the video because they didn't like it? Is this representative of everybody?" he asked.
Loera didn't directly answer but responded that overwhelmingly more students were choosing to opt into the program and few if any had opted out after taking the devices home.
It was initially part of the massive Common Core Technology Project — now rebranded the Instructional Technology Initiative — for students to take the devices home. But the option was cancelled in the fall of 2013 as some among the first students to get the devices figured out how to disable their content filters.
Requiring that the devices stay on campus "created logistical challenges for schools to distribute and collect devices on a regular basis," a September independent report on the program from American Institutes for Research (AIR) stated. District materials on the take-home rollout state that they have made significant improvements to the filters, but that "no web-filtering solution is 100 percent foolproof."
The filter disabling was among the first of many problems for the iPad program, which has included serious questions about the bidding process that are now being investigated by a grand jury, logistical problems with distribution, a low use of the device's pre-programmed educational software and a federal report that cited a general lack of a grand vision and metrics to judge the program's effectiveness.
Some committee members expressed concern about the 10 percent of students who declined to take the devices home. Loera explained that teachers are required to give paper assignments to students opting out, and that while every effort is made to ensure that the educational experience is equitable for them, it is "one of the challenges that we deal with."