Matthews: There is reason for optimism about edtech

Post columnist: 'I think the greatest potential for raising achievement through computers can be found in two new approaches to school information.'

Jay Matthews, the Washington Post's education columnist and an avowed "technoskeptic," grudgingly concedes that there may be something to all this technology in the classroom. Matthews is writing about the EdWeek's Technology Counts study, this year titled, "The Information Edge: Using Data to Accelerate Achievement."

First, the good news: I think the greatest potential for raising achievement through computers can be found in two new approaches to school information -- quick, consistent and regular reports to teachers on how their students are doing on tests they don't control, and student identifier systems that allow educators to follow closely the progress of each child no matter how many times he or she switches teachers or schools. Edweek says schools are making progress on both counts.

Edweek Senior Writer David J. Hoff describes a system in Gainesville, Ga., in which students are tested based on state standards at the start of every quarter in every subject and the results made available the same day. Students take tests on the same content at the end of the quarter so teachers can determine if they will need to review material that may not have come across in their teaching.

On the other hand, the survey found that three states don't match the identifiers with performance on state tests, six states plus the District don't use them to track whether students complete high school and 27 states plus the District don't link the identifiers to high school transcripts, Matthews notes.

I remain much more interested in what the new technology is doing in the classroom than I am in state-level assessments, such as this one. And I am not going to place any large wagers on the new computers being able to make up for the low expectations, short school days and apathy that plague our worst schools.

But there is something interesting going on with all these new devices and assessment techniques, and the inventors who seem to be about the same ages as my children. I wish them well, and will try not to let healthy skepticism degenerate into ignorance.

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