iPad Kindergarten Research Starts Turning up Results

Maine students showed modest gains in their literacy assessment scores through a combination of systemwide changes.

by / February 16, 2012 0
Kindergarteners in Maine's Auburn School District work with tablets and apps to improve their literacy. | Photo courtesy of Mike Muir

Initial results from the nation's first kindergarten iPad initiative show modest increases in literacy test scores, Auburn School District announced Thursday February 16.

"This is the first real examination of a program with this age group of kids and such a strong research design," said Damian Bebell, assistant research professor in the Lynch School of Education at Boston College, which collaborated with two others on this research.

Auburn School District's Systemwide Strategy

Passing out tablets and customizable apps doesn't work by itself, said Mike Muir, a Auburn multiple pathways leader involved in the research with Bebell and Dorris. For several years, the K-6 teachers have learned literacy strategies through Maine Partnerships in Comprehensive Literacy, the University of Maine's professional development model.

With a new four-year strategic program called Advantage 2014 that includes the tablets, the district hopes to increase third-grade literacy and math test scores from 60 to 90 percent by 2015.

A Lead4Change Model developed by the Maine Center for Meaningful Engaged Learning at the University of Maine Farmington helps the district focus on the overarching goal of student learning. The model calls for feedback and evidence, leadership and professional development; curriculum, pedagogy and assessment; and technology resource management, Muir said.

"We don't think that we would be successful if we weren't kind of taking a systemic view of this initiative and all the moving parts and paying attention to it."

Researchers randomly selected eight of 16 kindergarten classes from the Auburn School District’s six public elementary schools. Each student in these classes received an iPad in September to use at school and at home.

The other classes acted as a control group in the nine-week trial period. Once the study concluded in December, the control group received iPads.

This random selection allowed research to be conducted as objectively and empirically as possible, Bebell said. And it should give the results from the 266-student study a higher level of credence with policymakers and grant funders.

Before and after the iPad implementation period, each student took standardized literacy assessments. These included the Rigby Benchmark Assessment, the Children's Progress Academic Assessment, and the Observational Survey of Early Literacy Achievement.

On the first two types of assessments, both groups showed improvements of less than one point compared to their pre-assessment scores. While the students who used iPads scored higher, the difference wasn’t statistically significant.

But the five subtests on the Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement showed increases of 2 to 15 points in both groups. The tablet group scored slightly higher on four of the subtests.

However, the tablet group scored 2.1 points higher than the control group on the Hearing and Recording Sounds in Words subtest. This is the only statistically significant result from the first phase of the study.

For this assessment, students listened to a dictated sentence and wrote it down, which measures students' level of phonemic awareness and ability to represent sound with letters.

"One of the reasons that we may have seen a jump in that particular subtest is that the apps that we are using for literacy are directly connected to those skills," said Sue Dorris, administrator at East Auburn Community School in the Auburn School District.

This year, the district will continue studying all kindergarten literacy assessment results and compare them to cohorts in previous years. Then over the next three academic years, the study will continue with first-, second- and third-graders.

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.