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Creating a generation of college- and career-ready students starts with K-12 edtech.

GUEST COLUMN | by Kate Ballard-Rosa

CREDIT truePrepAccording to a new report from the University of Pennsylvania and the Pell Institute, 77 percent of people from high-income families have earned at least a bachelor’s degree by age 24, compared to just nine percent of people from low-income families. Although the percentage of high-income students graduating from college has nearly doubled since 1970, the percentage of low-income students obtaining a college degree has increased marginally, by just three points.

Technological advancements will aid educators in providing each student with the customized approach that will best prepare him or her for exceling in college and in the workforce.

Because a student’s chances of success in college is largely determined by the foundation he or she receives in K-12, curriculum using integrated technologies must begin in those classrooms in order to meaningfully impact college graduation rates. It is imperative that educators, school administrators, parents, and others focus their attention on including education technology platforms, such as Google Classroom, iPad apps, etc., into three areas that can substantially improve college completion rates and create a workforce capable of meeting today’s job requirements: improving academic performance, closing the confidence gap and overcoming financial constraints.

Improving Academic Performance

More schools are recognizing the value of whole child education, which prioritizes creating an environment where each student feels safe but challenged. Because every student’s mind works differently, using one teaching strategy in classrooms is not effective. Education technology has allowed teachers to look at each of their students individually and focus on their strengths and weaknesses in a particular subject or skill. Educators have begun to experiment with teaching concepts in different ways – for example, teaching the “practical reason” behind mathematical problems for students who need concepts to be more tangible in order to absorb them. However, this personalized and diverse instruction can become much more powerful with the use of technology.

Imagine an hour in the classroom. Extra practice with the math app “Math Doodles”, which is designed to give a visual representation of math problems, gives the student who needs math to be tangible extra practice with exactly what he needs. Conversely, a student who struggles in math because he has fallen behind in mental math skills could spend that same time using the app “Number Board”, which is designed to build mental math skills. And a third student, one who just needs more practice than his peers to reach mastery, could use an app like “Math Evolve”, which provides repetitive practice. 

Incorporating a range of teaching styles in K-12 education with the addition of technology is especially important for students with learning challenges. Oftentimes, these students have the potential to meet or even exceed their peers’ academic performance, but they often develop at a slower pace and by the time they catch up (typically around third or fourth grade), they’ve already fallen behind academically. For that reason, it’s no surprise that the graduation rate for such students is 20 percentage points lower than the national average.

Closing the Confidence Gap 

By third or fourth grade – especially when beginning to tackle more complicated mathematics like multiplication or fractions – most students come to believe they are either “smart” or “dumb,” regardless of their actual abilities. A “smart” student will approach a difficult question confident that he or she can figure it out, while a “dumb” student will immediately give up. Educators need to prioritize building confidence in students, especially those who may not be receiving adequate support at home. Scaffolding – or gradually increasing the difficulty of lessons – is one instructional technique that has proved effective in helping students gain confidence and preventing them from wanting to quit or give up. Education technology platforms often break up tasks that were once lumped together.

Take for example the online vocabulary-building platform “membean”. Every program begins with a “calibration”, where the student first determines his starting level. This ensures that the student’s confidence is never shaken, as the vocabulary program will include some words the student knows, and then gradually build in more challenging words. This way, no holes are left in the elementary stages of vocabulary, and the student can continue to learn and develop his vocabulary in a safe environment.

Overcoming Financial Constraints

Because teachers are usually responsible for a class of 20-30 students, students who struggle academically often benefit from working with a tutor outside of the classroom. The rise of online tutoring services with improved functionality have lowered the cost of tutoring substantially, due to minimal overhead costs and technology that automatically customizes a student’s learning plans. The time and money saved by allowing students to work with tutors at home, rather than driving to and from a facility, will benefit high- and low-income families alike. Additionally, with the slew of new resources for educators, such as the aps “Lecture Tools” (which allows educators to easily store lectures and resources) and “Super Duper Data Tracker” (which allows educators to track student progress), it is easier than ever for increasingly more people to become powerful educators. This increase in the number of quality tutors provides access to students who never before would have had the opportunity to receive one on one attention.

In the past decade, K-12 educators have made tremendous strides in recognizing that students have different learning styles and challenges that, with the right tactics and new technology, do not have to hold them back from achieving anything that their peers with more conventional learning styles and stability at home are capable of. Technological advancements will aid educators in providing each student with the customized approach that will best prepare him or her for exceling in college and in the workforce.

Kate Ballard-Rosa is the Managing Director of truePrep, a premium, online tutoring company that provides high-quality SAT tutoring at an affordable price. She previously worked as a tutor and is a graduate of University of California, Berkeley. 

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