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New Study Shows 1-to-1 Technology Improves Student Achievement in Math Over Time

One-to-one technology programs can raise math scores, but it may take time before improvements are seen, according to a new study.

The study, "One-to-One Technology and Student Outcomes: Evidence From Mooresville's Digital Conversion Initiative," published in September in the Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis journal, delves into the short- and medium-term effects of a North Carolina district's 1-to-1 laptop initiative on student achievement and behavior.

One-to-one programs are increasingly being implemented in schools nationwide, but research on their effects on student outcomes "isn't clear cut" and focus mainly on short-term effects, Marie Hull, co-author of the study, said in an interview.

Using statistical techniques, Hull and Katherine Duch took administrative school data from 2005 to 2013 from North Carolina to see whether student outcomes improved with the implementation of the laptop program in the Mooresville Graded School District in 2009. They compare the district's data from before and after implementation, as well as data from neighboring school districts without 1-to-1 programs.

Their results found that there is potential for 1-to-1 technology programs to increase achievement in the short term, but more so in the medium term.

Here are some of their findings:

  • On math: Mooresville students scored 0.11 standard deviations higher in the short term, and 0.13 standard deviations higher in the medium term.
  • On reading: No significant change in scores in the short term, and there is mixed evidence of improvement in the medium term.
  • On time use: Computer use increased by 9.6 days per month in the first full year of implementation; students did not spend more time overall on homework, but they did spend more of their homework time using a computer. On the other hand, time spent on "free reading" decreased about 6 minutes per day in the short term.
  • On absences: The biggest reduction in absences happened in the short term when students on average missed 1.6 fewer days in 2009 and 1.3 in 2010.

"We know [the digital conversion initiative] worked," Hull said. "But it's hard to tell exactly why."

Hull acknowledged the limitations of the study, saying that it only looks at one district and other districts might not see the same results. She also said other factors, like a change in teaching style or the curriculum, might have affected the results.

District leaders in Mooresville agree. While the digital conversion initiative is a huge factor, the district has also worked on curriculum alignment and improving classroom culture by building a positive relationship with students, Superintendent Stephen Mauney said in a phone interview.

"While technology is an instigator of change, it's more than putting a laptop in the hands of students," Mauney said. "It's a cultural change on how we teach. That's what's caused the biggest impact on our academic success."

One-to-one student computing was first introduced to K-12 schools in the United States in the late 1990s. Since then, the trend has gathered steam.

A 2016 meta-analysis of 15 years' worth of research studies on 1-to-1 programs found that it not only increased student achievement, but also gave a modest boost to their 21st-century skills, as Education Week previously reported.

The "biggest benefit" of the digital conversion initiative is the ability to make instruction more personalized, Mauney said. With technology, teachers have been able to adjust instruction more easily, he said.

But it takes time. District leaders at Mooresville faced pushback from some teachers in the beginning, but they worked with them by using the feedback to provide professional development. The district also didn't see a significant change in test scores until the end of the third year of implementation.

"One-to-one initiatives done properly take time," Mauney said.


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