Case Study: Rural Alabama School District’s Turnaround

A new case study released today by the Alliance for Excellent Education demonstrates how one predominantly low-income school district improved student engagement in the classroom and increased high school graduation rates through project-based learning (PBL) and the effective use of technology. The case study, which includes short video segments with educators and students, focuses on Talladega County Schools in Alabama.

Located fifty miles east of Birmingham, Talladega County Schools serves an overwhelmingly low-income population—75 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Faced with that challenge, as well as poor test scores and low high school graduation rates, a leadership team of administrators, teachers, students, community members, and county business leaders visited model schools across the nation. The Talladega team focused on schools that leverage technology to engage students, increase the rigor of student course work, improve student attendance, and focus on deeper learning.

The case study, “Building a Foundation: How Technology-Rich Project-Based Learning Transformed Talladega County Schools,” describes how the district implemented a PBL model using a digital learning framework to engage students with an extended inquiry learning process that paired complex questions with carefully designed tasks.

As a result, Talladega County increased its districtwide high school graduation rate from 72 percent in 2007 to 90 percent in 2014. Talladega also experienced changes in student attitudes toward learning and improved academic outcomes. Survey results at Talladega’s Childersburg High School show that 83 percent of students felt the new PBL model was more challenging than previous curricula. Because of its efforts, the Alliance featured Talladega at its third annual Digital Learning Day in 2014.