Charter school, edtech partnership yields improved test scores

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What happens when a school district and an edtech company join forces?

While many schools adopt edtech by trial and error with mixed results, one case became a success story.

Gooru, an interactive learning dashboard, designed and built a customized platform for Leadership Public Schools, a charter school network started in 2002 that serves about 1,500 predominately low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The transition was smooth and actually improved achievement rates, according to the Clayton Christensen Institute, a blended learning educational think tank that released a report last week detailing the partnership. With grants from the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Gooru redesigned its existing platform around the charter school’s personalized learning practices.

“It allows for really individualized learning experiences,” said Thomas Arnett, the study’s author. “One of the powerful things that LPS found is that student’s engagement and motivation really increased when students could take more ownership of their learning.”

Over the course of a year, the two teams built a platform in which students can interact with lesson modules based on curricula built by their teachers. Students can also track their own progress and teachers can adjust or change lesson plans to match their kids’ needs.

The collaboration sprang out of dire academic performance – in 2008, 80 percent of incoming freshmen were below grade level in math, and only 20 percent of them passed the state’s Algebra test by the end of the year. The school also noticed a disturbing pattern that many of their graduates were dropping out of college.

To revamp instruction, Mike Fauteux, a math teacher at LPS, tried to build a learning system in Google Sheets. But it required too much time to maintain the technology and train teachers who had little technical expertise, so the school sought other options.

A mutual friend of the CEOs at LPS and Gooru introduced them in an effort to create a project that could scale to serve more schools, and even other districts around the country. It was a win-win situation, according to the report, because Gooru was having trouble finding schools that would use their platform.

By the end of the school year, the classes using the tool saw a difference in scores and behavior. Students who reported feeling comfortable with math jumped from 32 percent to 56 percent, and reported gains in math of nearly three times the national growth average on state tests.

Arnett said technology can help enhance learning – but not replace teachers or instruction.

“We feel pretty strongly that technology alone is not the solution,” Arnett told EdScoop in an interview. “It’s really a combination of the technology and the instructional practices that technology enables.”

He added that the program was mutually beneficial, because it helped Gooru tailor the tool to a particular school’s needs.

“The teams really came together and worked collaboratively on redesigning Gooru’s technology,” Arnett said. “So it was a very integrated team in the way they worked together, and I think that was critical for the success of what they were able to build together.”

Reach the reporter at corinne.lestch@edscoop.com and follow her on Twitter @clestch and @edscoop_news.

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