The Long Review, February 2011

The Long Review, February 2011

Too often, reviews of edtech fall short of reality. Sure, speeds and feeds are important to consider, but how does this stuff work in the real world? T&L will try to answer that question this school year, when our editors follow the stakeholders at Village Charter School in Trenton as they implement Pearson’s SuccessMaker software on a 40-seat Dell PC desktop network.

Six months have passed in our Long Review process, and the staff and students at Village are fully immersed in the Pearson program. Students attend SuccessMaker labs with greater regularity than they do gym or art class. Teachers share printouts of student scores along with report cards during parent-teacher conferences. Even parents chat in the pickup line after school about how their kids are doing.

The consensus? Cautious optimism. “We’re pleased with the program. It has become part of our culture,” says Leigh Byron, Village’s head of school. “The teachers have adapted very well to integrating the program into their day-to-day lessons.” It took about two months for the gears to really start to mesh, Byron says. “It was going into November and December when we could see the program was taking hold. It always takes a little while to get going.”

The biggest benefit administrators and teachers have found is the ability to drill down and analyze students individually. Students use the program three days a week; each session is assessed. Teachers can then spot exactly where a child is facing a roadblock, go back into the regular classroom while the student is learning, and figure out how to move him or her forward.

Village students visit two Pearson Successmaker labs three times during the week. Their scores identify problems, which are addressed back during regular classroom instruction.

Whether improved math and literacy scores as logged by Pearson will translate into improved state testing scores remains to be seen. The state tests assess students with paper and pencil, whereas SuccessMaker is computerized. That twist is a concern for Byron as the school struggles to make AYP.

And some of the holistic benefits of SuccessMaker, such as its ability to interact with other back-office data systems, like Powerschool, have yet to be realized. Right now Byron is using the software to meet immediate needs. “We’re building the foundation with the students and the faculty. It gives them more confidence to grow incrementally.” Byron has been impressed by the Pearson representatives’ continued presence during professional development and student assessment.

His advice for other schools considering a program of this magnitude: Get the manuals now if you intend to start something next year. Visit schools that are in the midst of the program. And make sure to have your facilities and funding in place before taking the plunge.