An independent evaluation group told the school board this past week that everything was done the right way by the district in the first year-and-a-half of implementing the federal IMPACT grant that it started receiving money from in 2013.

Dr. Krista Collins with Georgia-based The Evaluation Group presented at Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting on the company’s assessment of Iredell-Statesville Schools’ work toward its goals of creating blended-learning environments where students and teachers supplement learning with technology and small group work.

Collins said that the researchers “did not find anything that would cause concern.”

“IMPACT teachers are being set up for success,” said Collins.

Professional development a continual need

The Evaluation Group’s review only covered the dates of January 2013 to June 2014, and identified at that time additional needs in the area of professional development (PD) for teachers, especially when it came to connecting educators with digital tools they could use in the classroom.

Collins said that surveys taken by 616 teachers and 9,526 students from April to June 2014 showed that right around a third, 34 percent, of teachers and 25 percent of students, were still not comfortable using laptop technology in the classroom at the time. At the end of last school year, that same survey also found that just 51 percent of students agreed that blended-learning was present in the classroom, compared to 70 percent of teachers.

The survey was taken, though, when students from just four schools had been given laptops as part of the one-to-one initiative.

Traci Fox, blended-learning coordinator for IMPACT, said that with the full rollout this year, “it's a different ballgame when all students come to class with a device in hand.”

“Like anything, it takes time and lots of practice to establish it as a norm,” Fox said in an email. “Right now it's very new and we know that typically it takes upwards of 3 years to establish practices that stick. That's why we are going to be diligent in our PD efforts while we still have the opportunity to utilize both the BLCs (blended-learning coaches) and the IFs (instructional facilitators).”

More online tools coming soon

The IMPACT grant is paying for a BLC, someone who operates as essentially a teacher coach, at nearly every middle and high school in I-SS for the four years of the grant, which runs through the end of the 2016-17 school year.

Coupled with the IF at the school, the two are there to guide teachers by instructing how to use and access the digital tools and activities that are being brought into the classroom.

A main focus right now, Fox said, is working to get the school system plugged into the N.C. Learning Object Repository (NCLOR), an online hub that connects educators across the state, allowing for the free sharing of digital resources.

“This process and collaborative effort is in the infant stage as we have been working with NCLOR to establish I-SS’ specific needs in terms of tagging and sharing materials and resources,” Fox said. “We’d like to begin utilizing the LOR as early as March 2015, but certainly no later than our Curriculum Review Week in June 2015.”

Fox also said that she’s excited about work within the college readiness institute (CRI) opportunities that are a requirement of the grant. Counselors, BLCs, IFs and student assistance program coordinators (SAPs) are organizing 10 events per year for students that educate on the next step in life, whether through college fairs, financial aid information sessions or college visits.

“Overall, it’s about helping children prepare for success and to become college and career ready,” Fox said. “We do have that in the classroom with personalized learning, but the CRI events are a key part of the big picture as well.”

Board assured evaluation was unbiased

After Collins spoke this past Monday, board member Cindy Haynes said that “I don’t look through rose-colored glasses,” and mentioned that “everything I heard was a positive.”

“So you and your researchers found nothing negative to report to us?” Haynes asked.

Collins said while nothing was necessarily considered a negative, there were still challenges ahead.

“We did ask those questions,” said Collins. “Are there challenges you’re experiencing? Are there issues you can’t resolve on your own?”

There was room for improvement, she said, especially when it came to professional development for teachers in the areas of digital content, online student assessments and personalized learning. But overall, Collins expressed confidence in the direction I-SS was headed, saying that the work of the grant was creating “positive changes in how they’re approaching the classroom and also great changes in the classroom in how instruction is being delivered and received by students.”

“We anticipate that the presence of these traits will continue to increase and that…it will continue to contribute to your district’s success,” Collins said.

Board member Martin Page wanted to hear for himself that Collins believed she was giving a fair assessment.

“You feel like this was an unbiased evaluation?” Page asked.

“I do,” she said.

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