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2016 Digital School Districts Winners Use Data Analytics, Digital Literacy Curriculum to Help Students Succeed

Three school districts earned top recognition for their education technology work in the annual Digital School Districts Survey from the Center for Digital Education. Here's insight into how they're helping students to learn.

Three school districts have earned top recognition for their education technology work in the annual Digital School Districts Survey from the Center for Digital Education. 

The survey gathers hundreds of responses from participating school districts and creates top 10 rankings for districts that met digital education benchmarks in three different categories. 

In the small school district category, Springfield Public Schools in New Jersey took first place. As part of the innovateNJ community of school districts that shares best practices, Springfield Public Schools spent last year analyzing test score data over a four-year period to see which students struggled and what types of questions they had trouble with, said Sharon Nagy-Johnson, director of instructional technology.

Based on this analysis, the school district started a parent-student program in the evenings that offered dinner, provided an opportunity for parents and students to learn together, and identified strategies that parents could use at home to help students in particular areas, Nagy-Johnson said. As a result of the program, teachers anecdotally noticed some positive changes in their students' work.

"It's not enough to just inform the teachers how to adjust instruction and differentiate for the children," Nagy-Johnson said. "We wanted to go a step further and bring the parents in to learn how they can help their child at home with very specific areas of need that we identified using the data." 

This year, Springfield took its parent-student program in a different direction with English language learning. Parents weren't as engaged with the school community as they wanted to be, partially because of the language barrier, said Dave Rennie, principal of James Caldwell Elementary School.

As students worked through Rosetta Stone software after school, their parents listened as well, and they could access the software at home to go through it themselves. That's helping both parents and students learn English better and communicate with the school more, Rennie said.

In the mid-sized school district category, White County Schools in Georgia earned a top ranking. The school district owns a 10-gigabyte fiber connection, and while it has a good internal wireless network, IT leaders plan to expand the network with federal E-rate dollars so students can access the Internet at home and on school buses, said William Sperin, technology director for White County Schools. They're piloting Wi-Fi on school buses now, and are working with Verizon to add more cell towers in the community so they hit fewer dead spots in their rural, mountainous region of Georgia.

On top of this network, they started providing computers to each freshman this year and plan to add computers for each freshman class in subsequent  years, Sperin said. With their own Chromebooks, students can be more efficient with their learning and access up-to-date digital learning opportunities quickly. This increased technology access will help them learn the skills they need to be globally competitive. 

"The technology has truly arrived to implement digital learning in a way that we've never experienced," said Sperin.

In the large school district category, Hampton City Schools in Virginia topped the list. Hampton City Schools has pulled students into leadership roles on its tech support team at the high school level, and these students are helping their peers and teachers with common technology issues, said John Eagle, the district's IT director. As a result, they learn skills that can help prepare them for a future of work where communication and problem-solving are critical. 

The school district is also helping students become more digitally literate with library curriculum in elementary school. By teaching kids digital citizenship, those students can take what they learned home to help their parents become more digitally literate, said Paul Lawrence, the district's information literacy director. At the upper grades, they're experimenting with online, blended digital curriculum from the Virginia Beach public television station WHRO and EverFi. 

"People learn in different ways," Lawrence said, "so we try to be flexible, and we try to offer people a lot of different roads to the same goal of being better digital citizens and being more digitally literate."