AUBURN, Maine — Test results show that iPads used by kindergarten students, combined with new teaching methods, are improving learning, educators said.
Recent test scores show that in the fall of 2011, as students began the year, 19 percent were proficient in reading skills. By spring, 67 percent were proficient, up 48 percentage points, said Shelly Mogul, school department curriculum director.
In reading, 49 percent were proficient in phonic skills in the fall. By spring, 80 percent were proficient, an improvement of 31 percentage points.
“We made really good gains with our kindergarten students last year,” Mogul said. “My overall reaction is very positive.”
Taxpayer money for the iPad tablet computers “is money well spent,” Mogul said.
And when this year’s first-graders began school this fall, 51 percent were proficient in reading, 60 percent proficient in phonics and 41 percent proficient in math.
“Entering the first grade they’re appearing to be more prepared,” Mogul said.
Superintendent Katy Grondin said she was not surprised. Teachers and administrators saw student progress throughout last year, she said.
“I’m pleased to see our data on an upward trend,” Grondin said. “Teachers are working hard to implement best practices in literacy and math. They are using the iPads as the tool. You can’t hand a tool” to classes without teacher professional development. Auburn has “done a nice job” providing that support, she said.
The academic gains were higher than previous years when no iPads were used, the data show. Last year was the first time kindergarten students were given iPads.
This year’s kindergarten has iPads, as do first-graders. As planned, next year’s second-graders will get iPads. They are being paid for through the school budget: $230,000 last year, $109,000 this year.
Primary grade teachers have taken courses on best practices in reading. The training shows teachers how to teach a class where students are at different learning levels, Mogul said.
Teachers have learned more about organizing classes, providing some instruction to the whole class, also teaching to small groups and teaching one-on-one. That allows teachers to meet individual needs. It means students “are not all doing the same thing if they don’t need the same thing,” Mogul said.
The iPad also allows a teacher to have one group of students work on one skill, while other students work on others. As students use different computer programs for letters, stories and numbers there is instant feedback to show them if they got the lesson right or coach them to try again.
School Committee member Tracey Levesque said Monday that she was also pleased with the test results. “The scores are great. I’m encouraged,” she said.
Two years ago, Levesque was opposed to the 2011 roll out of iPads in kindergarten classes. She helped create a Facebook page, Concerned Auburn Citizens For Responsible Education. She ran for School Committee office and was elected.
Once a school committee member, Levesque was named to a subcommittee that monitors iPads in schools. Since then, she has warmed to iPads. She said she has seen how the iPads get students more excited and engaged in learning. But she has concerns.
On her list is a need for a consistent “game plan” for how iPads are used in all classes. There hasn’t been enough communication to parents, Levesque said. She has been updated by her son’s teacher regularly, “but a lot of other parents didn’t get that information.”
There should be more involvement with occupational therapists to ensure iPad use won’t hamper fine motor growth and development or strain hand muscles or eyes, Levesque said. “I give them a thumbs up with concerns,” she said.