GORHAM, Maine -- The Maine Learning Technology Initiative appears to be a gamble that's paying off, according to a new report from the Maine Education Policy Research Institute.

The MLTI, a statewide program to provide every seventh- and eighth-grade students and their teachers with laptop computers and to provide teachers with professional development and training to help them integrate the new laptops into their classroom instruction, is in its first year.

The Maine Education Policy Research Institute (MEPRI) conducted the MLTI's first year evaluation. The goal of the research was to provide policymakers and practitioners with information to help them gauge whether the MLTI is doing what it was mean to do.

The was performed using surveys and case studies, the MEPRI said in its executive summary of its report.

The surveys -- some of which were Web based -- were used a primary means of gathering data from large samples of students, educators and parents. Case studies of representative schools and student groups were conducted, using interviews, focus groups, classroom observations and analysis of school level documents -- such as memos to parents and school policies, including analysis of student work -- to collect other data.

The MEPRI evaluation team said it focused its evaluation on getting answers to three key questions in the three core areas of teachers and teaching; students and learning; and schools and community. The three questions that guided the evaluation team were: How are the laptops being used?; What are the impacts of the laptops on teachers, students, and schools?; and are there obstacles to full implementation of the MLTI?

A majority of teachers reported using the laptop in lesson development and classroom instruction, according to the MEPRI evaluation, and teachers said they were better able to locate more up-to-date information, access information more easily and quickly, present lessons and create student assignments.

Teachers also said the changes were having positive impacts on their teaching, the evaluation found, because their lessons are more extensive, use more up-to-date resources and provide more opportunities to explore knowledge and information in more depth.

But teachers also reported that some technical problems and the lack of technical support sometimes limit their use of the laptops, the evaluation said. In addition, teachers said they need more time and professional development for this to occur, including time to explore and learn how to use the technology and professional development activities designed to help them integrate the technology more extensively in their curriculum development and instruction.

Overall, the evaluation said, many teachers remain enthusiastic about the MLTI and look forward to learning more through sustained training efforts.

In the second core area, students and learning, the early evidence indicates that the MLTI has dramatically increased the use of technology within classrooms, the evaluation said. Students have reported using their laptops to research information, complete assignments, create projects, and communicate with teachers and other students.

As the students begin to use the laptops more within their classes, they report an increase in interest in their schoolwork and an increase in the amount of work they are doing both in and out of school, the research found.

The nature of student learning in classrooms may be changing because students have the tools to pursue, organize, analyze and present information more readily at hand, the report round, and although some students continue to experience technical problems, most are excited about using the laptops in their classes.

Although it is too soon to fully assess the impact of MLTI on the third core area -- school and community -- early evidence indicates positive changes. Parents report that their children are more focused and more interested in school.

Schools have faced some added expenses in the implementation of the program but through creative solutions, many schools are finding ways to minimize these costs, and possibly even save money as the laptops replace materials such as reference books and calculators.

Finally, even more positive changes resulting from MLTI are anticipated by school principals and superintendents, although these impacts cannot yet be measured, the evaluation said.

The evaluation said the evidence indicates that significant progress has been made in implementing the MLTI, and though it is early in the implementation, the laptop program is having many positive impacts on teachers and their instruction, and on students' engagement and learning.

Some obstacles still exist in fully implementing the program, the evaluation said, but significant strides have been made in a very short time period toward achieving the MLTI's goals.