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FRIDAY, MARCH 30, 2007

Study: Computer access in schools improved

By Desiree Hunter
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Alabama students in grades K-12 have greater access to computers than they had last year, but the number of students per computer in the state is still above the national average, a study released Thursday shows.

Education Week magazine and the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center in Washington graded all states and the District of Columbia on students' and teachers' access, use and capacity to use technology.

Alabama received an overall grade of C in the State Technology Report 2007. The grades are based on 14 individual indicators including technology standards for teachers and administrators and state testing on students' ability to use technology.

Georgia earned the only A and South Dakota and Virginia each got an A-. At the low end were Oregon, the District of Columbia, Nevada, and Rhode Island, which all received Ds.

Alabama scored a C- for access to technology, B- for use of technology and a C in capacity to use technology. Last year those grades were D- for access, B- for use and B for capacity to use technology. The overall grade was a C.

"The access to technology issue is really affecting Alabama," said Caroline Hendrie, the project's executive editor. "The student to computer ratio is well above the national average and if kids had greater access in schools they would likely perform better."

According to the study, there are 4.8 Alabama students to every instructional computer, compared to the national average of 3.8 students per computer.

Department of Education spokeswoman Brooke Thorington said the rate of 8.4 Alabama students to every computer in last year's report card shows progress is being made. Last year the state Legislature approved more technology funding and raised the spending per teacher from $181 to $350.

Thorington said passage of an $850 million bond issue the Legislature is considering this year to fund school construction and technology would mean schools could put more attention on buying computers instead of more pressing issues like making school repairs.

"For a really poor school district, they might be worried about keeping the roof up and not so much on computers," she said. "The bond issue is going to focus on facility needs and when some of those districts that don't have as much funding get more money, we'll see improvements in technology."

Hendrie said Alabama's drop from a B to a C in the capacity category is a result of higher standards being used in the 2007 report card. Last year states received marks for merely offering technology courses for teachers and administrators, but this year they only got credit if they required the courses to be taken. Alabama does not make that requirement.

"Another area that would boost the state's grades is the state has student standards that include technology, but it doesn't really require students to demonstrate those skills or knowledge," Hendrie said. "If the state did that the grade would improve."

Melinda Maddox, director of technology initiatives for the department of education, said while Alabama doesn't have statewide technology testing, each school district is required to asses the students" skills in that area.

"Right now we leave it up to the local school district to determine if students have mastered it," she said. "We don't have any state tests on that and we probably won't because there are already so many tests out there."

Maddox attributed Alabama's strongest grade — a B- in the use of technology category — to several technology initiatives including the distance learning program that was expanded this month.

Students in the Alabama Connecting Classrooms, Educators & Students Statewide program, or ACCES, can take online or web-conferencing courses that aren't offered at their school.

Virtual schools have been set up in 23 states, putting Alabama slightly ahead of the curve, Hendrie said.

"Alabama does get some credit for that," she said.


On the Net:

Education Week study:

Education Week state report cards:

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