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Do iPads Really Boost Test Scores?

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Philip Schiller, an Apple senior VP, speaks about Apple's plan to "reinvent" textbooks using the iPad and new applications called iBooks 2 and iBooks Author in January.

It’s possible the iPad can make a difference in schools for even the youngest of learners, a new study finds. From Apple tech blog TUAW:

A study of kindergarteners in Auburn, Maine has shown that students who use iPads score better in every literacy test than those who don’t. The study focused on 266 children whose instruction featured the iPad. Those who used the device scored higher on the literacy tests, were more interested in learning and excited to be there.

This is the latest set numbers suggesting iPads are immensely useful learning tools. But similar studies have been criticized in the past.

Take the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt-funded study of an iPad initiative in a California algebra classroom. As MindShift wrote:

The study showed that 78 percent of students who used the HMH algebra iPad app scored “proficient” or “advanced” on the California Standards Test, compared to 59 percent of students who used the textbook version. “As students were randomly assigned, the results indicated that use of the app was the chief cause behind the improvement in student test scores,” the report states.

But education blogger David Wees took issue with a few points in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt study. Was it the iPad that made the difference, or simply good teaching, Wees wondered? To summarize his post at 21st Century Educator:

  • The school’s principal very specifically chose two teachers to use the iPads in the classroom. “The process for choosing the teachers,” writes Wees, “was anything but random.”
  • “The teachers who were chosen (or volunteered?) had to work harder to implement this program. This suggests that at least part of the effect on their test scores could be attributed to the efforts their teachers put in,” Wees says, adding “one wonders how much of the learning effect was due to this personalized attention. Did the two teachers in this study also find ways to personalize and give individual attention to their students in their other non-iPad classes?”
  • Students were able to take the iPads home and have 24/7 access to the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt iPad app that contained the material they were learning. Can you attribute the increased time of exposure to the material to the iPad? Wees is skeptical: “Students who spend much more time working on math are obviously going to see an increase in their test scores.”

Some Indiana school districts are already embracing the use of tablet computers in their classrooms. The Indiana Department of Education is subsidizing six districts who are trying out tablet technology as part of a $4.3 million innovation grant program announced in April 2011. Other districts are using iPads and netbook computers in classrooms without state help.

John Keller, assistant superintendent for technology at the Indiana Department of Education, has said state officials want to make sure Indiana schools are taking “smart risks” with education technology, like tablets and educational apps.

“People are sort of leaving behind the discussion whether or not we should have technology [in classrooms] and focusing on the question of ‘how?’ How will these tools inside the school and inside the learning context be put to good use, not just a doing these things differently, but doing different things?” Keller told StateImpact in October.

Mike Muir, who works for the Auburn, Maine, school district profiled in the latest study, echoed this sentiment. He spoke to Jim Dalrymple on the Apple blog The Loop.

“The objective has to be learning, not just getting the technology out there. We are paying attention to app selection and focused on continuous improvement — we aren’t just handing equipment to teachers,” Muir told The Loop.

What do you think of the use of iPads in the classroom? Are iPads simply a cool gadget? Or a transformational learning tool?

Comments

  • http://twitter.com/appsined Apps In Education

    The real question is…”Does time on task boost test scores?”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1297340924 Jenny Robinson

    Thank you for giving attention to the educational/legislative interest in iPads. I guess I’m not surprised that an Apple tech blog and a Houghton Mifflin sponsored study would show good results, in terms of test scores, for iPad use. Research sponsored by companies trying to sell products is bound to demonstrate the necessity of buying those products.

    But to me, as a parent, the larger question is, do test scores adequately describe learning? And for me, the clear answer is no. So even if iPads are the path to better test scores, that is beside the point–what kind of school environment do we want for our children? I want one that is intellectually challenging, that promotes observation and examination of and reflection about the material world. Young children need tactile and kinesthetic experience; they need to look at their classmates’ and teachers’ faces and listen to their voices; they need the outdoors; they need games; they need a balance between structure and autonomy.

  • Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer

    And I would imagine that if one looked at the studies on child development and how children learn best, they would fully support Jenny Robinson. Unfortunately for Apple and Houghton Mifflin, you can’t easily make money off of children playing tag or building mud pies. Sticks and stones are free.. (but labels based on test scores CAN hurt me!) :)

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