Computer Use Grows In Chapter 1 Classes, New Report Finds

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WASHINGTON--Computers are playing an expanding and increasingly diverse role in Chapter 1 compensatory-education programs, but administrators and teachers need more training and the benefits of more research before they can realize the full potential of high technology as a remedial aid, according to a new Congressional study.

And while scattered projects using computers to help limited-English-proficient students have shown positive results, such students and their teachers typically make far less use of technology than their peers in regular classes, the report concludes.

The findings were compiled by the Office of Technology Assessment, a Congressional research agency, as part of a comprehensive survey of the use of technology in education. The full study is scheduled to be completed next February.

A staff report on the findings relevant to Chapter 1 and LEP students was released last month to aid Congressional committees considering reauthorization bills for the federal programs that serve such children.

In addition to chronicling the rapid growth in the use of technology in schools during the past decade, the report presents the most recent data on the current status of technology in education, as well as findings culled from surveys of all 50 state Chapter 1 coordinators.

Although the state officials expressed widely differing views on the effectiveness of computer-aided instruction and how it should be implemented, they were nearly unanimous in recommending a broad agenda to the Congress.

They maintained that the Congress should find ways to encourage the development of "high tech'' demonstration programs, research their effectiveness, and disseminate the findings to practitioners.

According to the study, nearly 60 percent of all Chapter 1 teachers reported using computers to aid in the instruction of their students, compared with slightly more than 50 percent of all regular classroom teachers who use them.

The study also notes that spending for computers in Chapter 1 programs appears to mirror trends in spending by all public schools for computers, which nearly doubled every year during the first half of the decade.

During the period from 1980 to 1985, $89 million was spent in 39 states on hardware and software for Chapter 1 programs, according to rough estimates provided by officials in those states.

In every state, computers are used for drill-and-practice exercises in some Chapter 1 programs, the survey of Chapter 1 coordinators found.

The finding is not surprising, the researchers say, because drill-and-practice software has been available longer than any other type of software, and because there is a strong body of research showing that students, particularly those classified as disadvantaged, benefit from using it.

"There is a general belief among researchers and practitioners that computer technology enhances motivation for learning,'' the report notes, "because it can be nonjudgmental, it provides immediate feedback, it allows students to work at their own pace, and it helps raise students' 'status' in their schools.''

More interesting is the fact that 35 of the states reported using computers to teach problem-solving to their students, the researchers say, noting that the majority of software programs in the problem-solving area have become available only in the past few years.

Many Chapter 1 coordinators believe that, "without teaching educationally disadvantaged students higher-order skills along with basic skills, they will never perform at or above grade level,'' the report states.

Rules Need To Be Clarified

The state officials also expressed concern that the federal Chapter 1 legislation and regulations contain ambiguities about how the funding can be used to buy computer hardware. Some states allow school districts to budget the cost over several years, while others impose limits on the percentage of a school district's Chapter 1 budget that can be used for such purchases.

Some states encourage their school districts to buy only software with Chapter 1 funding, and recommend that they buy hardware with Chapter 2 money, the report found. Such a practice enables districts to use the computers for non-Chapter 1 students, which is prohibited if they are purchased with Chapter 1 money.

The report also notes that school districts in most states are using computers to ease the administrative burden of Chapter 1. For example, computers are used to track student progress, to keep records, and to prepare reports.

The researchers recommend that the Congress study the feasibility of establishing a national data base for Chapter 1 students, similar to the Migrant Student Record Transfer System, that could be used to track students while they are receiving Chapter 1 services as well as after they leave the program.

The study reports that school districts in 23 states have used, or are using, computers to provide Chapter 1 services to students in religious schools, and that an additional 4 are planning to do so.

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1985 ruling in Aguilar v. Felton, which barred public schools from sending teachers into sectarian schools to teach remedial classes, many districts set up computer networks to serve students at their home schools. This has proven a popular solution, the reports says, for parents of private school students that are eligible for Chapter 1 who oppose having their children bused to neutral sites or public schools.

Some state officials questioned whether religious-school students are receiving equitable Chapter 1 services, as required by law, if they are learning at computer terminals without the benefit of assistance from any teacher. As a result of the Felton ruling, both public- and private-school teachers are prohibited from assisting such students while they work.

Access for LEP Students

The study also found that "the percentage of teachers who use computers in instructing their LEP students is consistently less than one-half of the percentage of teachers who use computers in teaching other students.''

Such students face a double barrier, the report notes. For one thing, it states, the students typically attend schools with enrollments that are predominantly minority and of a low socioeconomic status--the same schools that generally have the fewest computers. And second, little educational software has been developed that allows for instruction in a student's native language.

Little research has been conducted on the effectiveness of using computers to teach LEP students, the report states, but several current projects "show promising results.''

"[F]or these students,'' it continues, "word-processing and computer networking provide vehicles for students to function effectively in both their native language and in English.''

Moving to a more global review of recent studies, the report notes that the question of providing minorities and the poor with equal access to computers remains unsolved.

While all types of students have access to at least a minimum number of computers in high schools, the study concludes, "students in relatively 'poor' elementary or middle schools have significantly less potential access than their peers in relatively 'rich' schools.''

At the same time, the report notes, black children were less likely than white children to attend elementary schools with computers, although the researchers believe that the differences are narrowing.

Training and Research

To use efficiently the computers already in the schools and to explore the full potential of technology in remedial education, the researchers say, four areas must be addressed:
Teacher training. While the number of teachers using computers has doubled in the past two years, fewer than 70 percent of them have had at least 10 hours of instruction.

"The issue of continuing teacher training is the one most frequently mentioned by educational researchers, computer manufacturers, software developers, and educational policymakers as the top priority to assure successful continuation of the use of computers in schools,'' the report states.
Software development. The quality of software has "vastly improved,'' and a broader range of products is available, the researchers state. But, they add, market forces alone may not ensure that software will be developed to meet the needs of a specific group of students, such as those with limited English proficiency.
Research and evaluation. "Today, educators at all levels emphasize the need for more systematic evaluation of computer use,'' the report states.

Many state coordinators said there was a need to develop a set of criteria that can be used to assess research efforts, to undertake research to guide software development for a variety of learning and language needs, and to establish demonstration sites to test new technologies.
Dissemination of information. The rate of technological progress, the report notes, makes it difficult for even the most advanced districts to stay on top of lessons learned from implementation efforts and to keep abreast of new hardware and software.

While a variety of state and local networks are working to disseminate such information, the researchers state, many state coordinators said they would like a more systematic approach to sharing information so they could make informed judgments.

Vol. 06, Issue 33

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