by Valerie Verkamp
New findings of the Park Hill School District's 21st Century Learner Program, known as FliP, may lead many to question whether the high cost of the program is justifiable.
Voters in the Park Hill district last month turned down a tax increase that would have provided funding for the technology-based program. A 32-cent levy increase was voted down with 61 percent opposed to 39 percent in favor.
After that loss, school officials still hinted at moving forward with the FLiP program in the future.
“We’ll have conversations with the board and determine what the next steps will be with the Future Learner Project,” Dr. Scott Springston, superintendent, told The Landmark after the April election.
Interestingly, new academic data from the district reveals a very narrow comparable difference between the academic growth among students in the non-FliP classrooms versus the FliP classrooms.
The Future Learning Program was first implemented among fifth grade classrooms at Southeast Elementary, Line Creek Elementary, and Renner Elementary in the fall of 2012. During the 2013-2014 school year, the 21st Century Learner Program expanded to all fifth grade classrooms in the district's 10 elementary schools.
In a 21st century classroom, the setting shifts from a traditional classroom instruction into a classroom environment that fosters the development of 21st century skills. Students become equipped with their very own laptop device for school use and use at home. Laptops serve as a key learning tool where 21st century learning skills will be fully incorporated into the curriculum.
District officials claim the program will create a learning environment that is more student-driven. Teachers will spend considerably less time lecturing. Instead, their attention will focus on merely assisting students as they complete their research and class projects.
The district views the laptop as an extension of the classroom and believes the laptops will promote and expand student learning outside the classroom. District officials say the learning environment will shift to an environment where students can
learn independently inside or outside the classroom. Laptops will allow students to interact with people from all over the world, view educational video clips, and take virtual tours.
But a recent internal assessment indicates the achievement growth in FliP classrooms is neck to neck when compared to non-FliP classrooms. Students in the Park Hill School District continue to make high academic achievements with or without a 21st century learning environment.
“Academic data collected through the school year provided positive results and found that students in the FliP classrooms demonstrated high achievements and similar academic growth as students in the non-FliP classrooms from the previous years,” states a recent FLiP evaluation.
The results compare the academic achievement of all fifth graders in the district in a one-to-one environment to the academic achievement in non-FliP classrooms from the previous years.
Dr. Mike Kimbrel, director of research, evaluation, and assessment in the Park Hill School District, said the data measuring academic performance “shows that students are growing in FliP classrooms as much as they were in non-flip classrooms last year and the year before that.”
The evaluation is based upon a mixture of standardized testing, sample surveys, and interviews “to produce the most accurate picture for the effectiveness of the Future Learner Program.”
The Acuity test, a standardized test that focuses on Language Arts and Math, indicated students in FliP classrooms made similar academic growth compared to students in a traditional classroom setting.
“Students in FliP classrooms achieved similar proficiency level (compared) to students in non-FliP classrooms last year,” states the assessment.
Results from a STAR test, a standardized test administered in the fall, winter, and spring, produced an equivalent result. STAR data suggested students in the non-FliP classrooms outperformed the students in the FliP classrooms in reading. In math, students in a traditional classroom setting and students in FliP had “similar academic growth.”
“Students in both FliP and non-FliP classrooms had over two years of growth in Math,” states the assessment. “Differences between the FliP and non-FliP students were found to be not statistically significant.”
The district also analyzes the results of MAP testing, but the district won't be able to compare historical treads until the results become available over the summer.
In addition to standardized testing, the district used survey results, interviews, and focus groups to determine the efficacy of the FliP program. Those results indicate that teachers and students perceive a learning environment where each student has a laptop as an empowering and interactive way of learning.
“We found that our students are having a higher level of problem solving, communication, collaboration, and relevancy, which are 21st century skills that we are hoping to instill in our students,” said Dr. Kimbrel.
Students in FliP classrooms “expressed that they are making all kinds of digital products with a variety of tools to show what they have learned. They shared that they could find answers to things they didn't know or understand whenever they needed, and could learn a lot more because they had a laptop,” states the report.
During the academic school year, teachers said as the students' technological skills increased so did the students' level of confidence.
Overall, the combination of quantitative and qualitative data disclosed by the district does not conclusively show that a 21st century learning environment equates to a higher level of academic performance over a traditional classroom environment.
THE FUTURE OF FLIP
The district plans to expand FliP to all sixth grade classrooms during the 2014-2015 school year, but funding to further implement the program remains a concern. Once fully implemented, FliP would carry an annual $6 million dollar price tag.
After the Park Hill School District failed to acquire enough support to pass a proposed 32-cent tax increase, the district continues to explore ways to fund the district's goal of increasing instructional technology in the classroom.
During a Park Hill Board of Education meeting held Thursday, district officials discussed the idea of generating additional revenue by soliciting advertisers and selling advertising in seasonal sports programs and music programs. Rather than single-handedly embarking on a marketing and sales project, the district would like to partner with an established marketing agency to help the district create an effective advertising program.
District officials unanimously approved a measure to move forward with negotiations with Kelly Sports Properties. Kelly Sports Properties is an advertising agency based out of Columbia that markets business products and services through a variety of means including web sites, print products, radio, scoreboard messages, video, and auto-notification systems.
School officials indicated there would be no upfront cost associated with the agreement. All gross revenue raised from advertising will be split with 70% going to Park Hill and 30% to the advertising agency.
Early estimates based upon demographics in the region suggest the district's third year earning potential could reach as high has $320,000. Should the estimated annual revenue reach their projection of $600,000 by the third consecutive year, Kelly Sports Properties would earn a commission of $180,000.
Goals of FLIP
In 2011, the district set goals to measure the status of FlIP's progress with the help of Educational Collaborators. Educational Collaborators is a consulting group that completed a one-to-one Implementation Planning and Change Management report for the school district.
“The way the district structured its evaluation of FliP was in four goal areas, which are increasing 21st century skills in our students, increasing engagement, increasing technology skills, and evaluating their academic achievement,” said Dr. Kimbrel.
Based on these measureable goals, district officials say FLiP is making progress toward reaching set goals.
“The program goals that we set out in 2011 are the program goals that we have today, and those program goals are being met,” said Dr. Kimbrel.
Dr. Kimbrel said the overall project goal of the FlIP program is to “Preserve academic excellence while gradually transforming teaching and learning towards a student-centered model through targeted deployment of laptops and related technologies to empower students for the 21st century.”