by Valerie Verkamp
Data obtained from the Park Hill School District indicates a technology program that is the center of a 32-cent requested tax levy increase has had mixed results when it comes to measuring performance by students participating in the pilot program.
The school district predicts a 21st century learning environment equates to higher performing students, but so far standardized tests haven't clearly indicated that student achievement in Future Learner Project (FLiP) classrooms has risen to a noticeable level.
To date, an assessment tool measuring 21st learning skills acquired from a 21st learning environment has not been developed. This has forced the Park Hill School District to rely on normal standardized testing to measure student growth in their 21st century learning classrooms. One standardized test indicates the FLiP program may have a weakness.
During the 2012-2013 school year, fifth grade students at Southeast Elementary, Line Creek Elementary, and Renner Elementary participated in FLiP, while students at the remaining seven elementary schools continued learning in a traditional classroom setting.
Students in the FLiP program are provided their own laptop for use at home and school.
In the fall and spring, two separate and distinct standard tests were deployed to all fifth graders within the Park Hill School District.
Chris Seufert, who serves as the treasurer of the Park Hill School Board, told The Landmark the results of the two academic tests are not “uniformly positive.”
The Acuity test, a standardized test that focuses on English/language arts and math, indicated that students in FLiP classrooms overall achieved higher academic growth and reduced the initial gap that existed near the beginning of the school year when compared with the non-FLiP classrooms, he said.
“The Acuity test indicated that the FLiP program is being effective,” said Seufert.
Despite these results, Seufert warned against interpreting the results conclusively since the results were taken from a small sample of participants.
“We had 30 percent of fifth graders participate for one year,” Seufert said in explaining the small sample size.
On the other hand, results from a STAR Test, a standardized test administered in the fall, winter, and spring, suggests students in the traditional classroom environment outperformed the FLiP students in reading.
“On STAR-Reading, students in the non-FLiP group outperformed the FLiP students,” states an internal evaluation of the FLiP program.
In math, “FLiP students slightly outperformed non-FLiP students, but this difference was found to not be statistically different,” states an internal evaluation of the FLiP project.
Does this express a weakness rather than strength of the FLiP program?
Seufert said it's an indication there is no definitive answer.
“This is statistically significant and it is sort of against the efficacy of the FLiP classrooms,” said Seufert.
Based upon the relevant conflicting test scores, Seufert recommends the district create an assessment tool that accurately measures these 21st century learning skills before more fully implementing the FLiP program.
Seufert was the only one of seven school board members who voted against placing the 32-cent tax levy proposal on the April ballot.
Seufert said he frets over not having an objective assessment tool to sufficiently measure the students' 21st century skills.
“My understanding of what an assessment tool is supposed to do is to measure objectively. Are we enhancing these 21st century skills? And since that is probably the major focus of the FLiP program, it seems to me that information would be very important to have. Right now, that is just a hole in the data,” Seufert said.
The Park Hill School District also predicts student achievement will be enhanced based upon a sample survey that measured 21st century learning skills such as problem solving, communication, collaboration, creativity, needs, relevancy, and engagement. Seufert sharply criticized the survey and stated the survey, which was distributed to 700 students, merely measures the student's perception of those skills.
“Information like this I am going to discount,” he said. “For me, I would really like that objective piece just to make sure that perceptions accord with reality,” he added.
Seufert said in order to justify spending $6 million a year, he would want substantive evidence that clearly indicates an extraordinary difference.
“As I look at the data, it doesn't look like the FLiP classrooms are doing significantly better than the non-FLiP classrooms,” he said.
Susan Newburger, president and the official spokesperson of the school board, said the FLiP pilot program provided the district with a really unique opportunity.
“We were really able to see the efficacy of the different methodology and technology that we're using in FliP,” she said.
Newburger said the school district conducted 16 different quantitative measurements on the FLiP pilot program.
“Some of the assessments monitored progression through the year and some were end of the year results, like MAP testing. As a whole, we are really pleased with the trend of the pilot as the year went on,” said Newburger.
Newburger said the results from the STAR test did not suggest a decrease in performance, but indicated “flat” results.
“Those tests are given repeatedly throughout the year,” explained Newburger. “The MAP testing, done at the end of the year, was even more striking of the efficacy of the FLiP program, in that our students in that case made more significant gains than our non-Flip students.”
But an expert in interpreting standardized test results indicated that at least one test revealed that non-FLiP classrooms outperformed FLiP classrooms.
Dr. Mike Kimbrel, director of research, evaluation, and assessment in the Park Hill School District, confirmed that the results from a STAR-Reading test “showed that the Flip classrooms were not performing as well as the non-FliP classrooms.”
Dr. Kimbrel said with the exception of the STAR-Reading test, all other data including the Acuity test, sample survey, and MAPS testing indicates the FLiP classrooms were “performing at or better” than the non-FLiP classrooms. STAR-Reading “is the only one we found to be statistically significant in the direction toward non-FLiP classrooms,” said Dr. Kimbrel.
The results of the MAP testing that measured growth in math, science, and English/language arts contradict the results of the STAR-Reading test, indicated Dr. Kimbrel.
“What we found in all cases was that the fifth graders that were in the FLiP classrooms either closed or eliminated the achievement gaps that were there previous years and they grow more statistically,” said Dr. Kimbrel.
When asked whether the assessment tools deployed by the Park Hill School District strongly indicate that a 21st learning environment equates to higher performing students, Dr. Kimbrel said “we don't have a 21st assessment, because there isn't one that exists.”
“The assessment tools that we have indicate that in all of our classrooms including FLiP that achievement is high, growth is high, and in most cases, in this look between the comparisons, that students that were in FLiP classrooms performed in growth specifically, and grew more than students that were not in FLiP classrooms. Previously where there were achievement gaps, those gaps were narrowed or eliminated by that group of students last year,” said Dr. Kimbrel.
Another concern Seufert has on the FLiP program is the additional responsibility placed on educators. Seufert said it does concern him that a single classroom teacher will be responsible for monitoring the internet access for 25 students. Seufert said as an assistant prosecuting attorney in Platte County who prosecutes cybercrimes, it does make him nervous that students may potentially have access to “dark places” online.
Despite this uneasiness, Seufert says he believes that sufficient mechanisms are in place to protect students while they're on the internet.
“I think the important thing is to set expectations, to have rules firmly in place, and to monitor the websites being accessed,” said Seufert. “It is an issue we're aware of and will continue to monitor so if it becomes a problem we will find ways to address that,” he said.
One in every three students in the Park Hill School District qualify for the free or reduced lunch program. That is another factor that influenced Seufert's decision to vote against the proposed 32-cent tax levy increase.
“I've talked to folks and they tell me that things are still pretty tough out there,” he said. “The economy is not doing great, and that is something I considered when I thought about whether or not we should raise taxes.”
Seufert said on the other side of that coin, providing each and every child with a laptop may create a unique opportunity for children less privileged.
“There is a digital divide,” he said. “You have a lot of kids in our community that have a lot of advantages and can have the latest and greatest technology. Then you have families with kids whose family can't afford those technological tools. Putting laptops in the hands of every kid sort of levels the playing field.”
But since every student may not have internet access at home, socio-economic diversity may present another divide, since a portion of students possibly wouldn’t benefit from full access outside of the classroom.
An internal investigation examined some of the challenges for the FliP program. Their evaluation of the program identified several challenges, including the additional labor the new teaching method placed upon educators, as well as technological difficulties.
“The instructional shift and the introduction of ubiquitous computing in the classroom require a significant change in practice,” states an internal evaluation of the FLiP project. “Not knowing what to expect with this shift is difficult for teachers. Teachers not only require professional development to make this shift in practice happen, but also need time to process the knowledge that was gained.”
The evaluation also suggested that laptop devices within the FLiP classroom environment didn't always work.
“Teachers and students experience problems with various applications, the network, and devices,” states the internal evaluation of the FLiP program. “Maintaining access and connectivity for all students is sometimes a problem.”
The evaluation indicated that teachers and students need to become adaptive when facing technological difficulties.
To fund the FLiP program, school officials have elected to ask voters in the district to decide whether or not they support a tax levy increase. The proposed 32-cent levy increase will be decided at an April 8 election. It requires a simple majority for passage.
If passed, the tax increase would bring the operating portion of the tax levy from $4.9217 to $5.2417 per $100 of assessed valuation. Some school board members argue that the Park Hill School District offers a nominal tax levy compared to other sizeable school districts in the area.
Seufert said that's only half the story. Seufert said while the tax rate may rank low, that's because the district has a higher assessed valuation than most comparable districts. He indicated a better tool to compare is dollars spent per student.
“The Liberty School District has a higher tax rate, but when you compare the assessed valuation per average daily attendance they are about half ours,” said Seufert. “They have a higher tax rate to raise a similar amount of money, because Liberty is a residential area. Park Hill is very blessed. We have a tremendous tax base. We have a lot of commercial, a lot of retail, and a lot of industrial, which doesn't send kids to school but sends money to school.”
According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the assessed valuation per average daily attendance in the Park Hill School District is $146,622.09. The assessed valuation per average daily attendance in the Liberty School District is $70,935.13.
During the 2013-2014 school year, the FLiP program was expanded across all fifth grade classrooms in all 10 elementary schools in the district. Newburger said FLiP classrooms will continue to be monitored. Once new assessment data becomes available, the district will release it to the public. Preliminary data indicates the historical comparison reflects that fifth graders are “achieving as high or higher than they have in the past, specifically in communication arts,” said Dr. Kimbrel. “In mathematics we are seeing that they have positive growth as well.”
The Park Hill School district will employ an external assessment and evaluation on the FLiP program.
School officials say over the next three year consecutive years, the FLiP program would expand to all grade levels.