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Improving the Effectiveness of Digital Educational Tools in Increasing Student Achievement and Reducing Achievement Gaps

K-12 schools are making significant investments in digital educational tools, yet claims made regarding their potential for transforming education and reducing achievement gaps run ahead of a limited and mixed evidence base. Considerable technology disparities persist in K-12 public schools (by race and socioeconomic status), to a lesser extent in the availability of the Internet and technology devices, and more so in how they are used to create quality learning opportunities and improve educational outcomes. There is growing evidence that factors that influence users' understandings of the structural properties of digital tools, the functionality of the technology, and how digital tools are enacted and used are key drivers in whether and how opportunities provided through digital tools will be effective in improving student educational outcomes and reducing achievement gaps. The primary research questions addressed in this research include: What factors in the implementation of digital tools impede or support student access to quality learning opportunities? How does the implementation and student use of digital tools affect student educational outcomes and gaps in outcomes (by race and socioeconomic status)? What policies and strategies can increase the effectiveness of digital tools in improving student achievement and reducing inequalities in access and gaps in student outcomes? This research includes the study of two of the most widely used digital tools—online (computer-assisted) supplemental instruction and online instruction (course-taking)—in one of the poorest and most racially segregated school districts, Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). MPS is integrating digital tools into instruction both during and outside the school day with the explicit intent to reduce disparities in access to educational technology and reduce achievement gaps by race and socioeconomic status. The researchers are analyzing school record data linked to data from the education technology vendor and are observing student use of the digital tools in the classroom environment to address the core research questions. The research findings on what constitutes high-quality digital programs and what factors or attributes of digital tools and their implementation in schools drive improvements in student achievement will empower state educational agencies, school district staff, instructional providers, parents and other stakeholders to make more effective use of digital instructional tools and to ensure that they reduce rather than exacerbate achievement gaps.

Grantor: WT Grant

Expected completion date: 7/31/19

Project or Grant: Grant
Date Span: August 01, 2016 to July 31, 2019
Principal Investigators: Carolyn Heinrich
Academic Department: Leadership, Policy, and Organizations