The potential of technology to help close the skills gap

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Chapter 3

The potential of technology to help close the skills gap

Numerous innovations in the education technology space are beginning to show potential in improving education and helping address skills gaps. To help lower the cost and improve the quality of education, education technology is being used to:

  • Find creative solutions to fundamental challenges in many countries, such as a lack of well-trained teachers and broadly accessible technology infrastructure
  • Make education available to a broader audience at a much lower cost or provide higher quality instruction at the same price
  • Enable easier scaling up of promising models within local markets and the transfer of best practices across markets in ways that can be sustained over the long term
  • Gain insight into how and what students learn in real time by taking advantage of the greater variety, volume and velocity of data
  • Increase teacher productivity, freeing up valuable time from tasks such as grading and testing, which can be used for differentiated teaching of competencies and character qualities

In addition, education technology can be deployed to develop 21st-century skills such as communication, creativity, persistence and collaboration, as is explored in the representative examples below.

Of course, technology is only one element in a portfolio of vital solutions that aim to close the 21st-century skills gap. These include strategies such as better teacher preparation, new modes of learning and wraparound services for struggling families.

But when educators add education technology to the mix of potential solutions, we find they are most effective if applied within an integrated instructional system known as the closed loop. As in engineering or manufacturing, the closed loop refers to a system that requires an integrated and connected set of steps to produce results. In the educational world, the closed-loop instructional system works similarly. At the classroom level of the closed loop, educators create learning objectives, develop curricula and instructional strategies, deliver instruction, embed ongoing assessments, provide appropriate interventions based on student needs and track outcomes and learning. All these efforts must be linked together as well as aligned with the goal of developing 21st-century skills (see Exhibit 6).

To understand how technology can enhance learning as one tool in a portfolio, we surveyed the education technology landscape for trends and promising approaches to developing 21st-century skills. Based on our research and interviews with dozens of players in the education field, we homed in on a number of resources, as well as school networks that place a heavy emphasis on technology, as representative examples of those trends. In this section, we focus exclusively on skill development in primary and secondary education. By the time students enter college and the labour market, deficiencies that have not been addressed earlier can be far more difficult and costly to remedy.

Exhibit 6: An instructional system known as the closed loop is necessary to address skills gaps

Through our analysis, we categorized the technologies that further strengthen the closed loop to address 21st-century skills gaps and deliver outcomes. The first category includes instructional resources that help address 21st-century skills gaps through the design, delivery and assessment of learning. These include personalized and adaptive content and curricula, open educational resources, communication and collaboration tools and interactive simulations and games. The second category includes institutional resources that help the closed loop deliver outcomes by improving human capital development and strengthening management systems. These include digital professional development resources for teachers and student information and learning management systems. At the end of this chapter, we also explore three school networks attempting to use education technology within the closed loop as they respond to the respective challenges found in different parts of the world.

When education technologies are layered throughout the closed loop, we argue that technology-based solutions such as the sample profiled here have the potential to enable teachers, schools, school networks and countries to scale up solutions in ways not possible before and potentially to deliver better outcomes and learning. That said, their inclusion in this report is not intended to serve as an endorsement: much more research must be done to identify the most effective uses of technology in the classroom and the most transferable solutions. In fact, most education technologies we surveyed come from the developed world and would require significant adaptations to respond to the unique challenges of and be successfully transferred to developing countries.

Instructional resources that enable the closed loop to address 21st-century skills gaps

Increasingly, best-in-class curricula aim to teach multiple skills at the same time. For example, teachers might use word problems to teach multiplication, directing students to think critically and solve problems while developing both literacy and numeracy skills. Education technology has the potential to become an option for teachers in delivering this combination of foundational literacies, competencies and character qualities.

At present, however, our research has found that most instructional activity in the education technology space has concentrated on the development of foundational literacies, given the focus of most educational standards around the world. While there has been some effort to develop competencies and character qualities, these skills are still not the primary focus of most educators and education technology developers (see Exhibit 7). We conclude that to develop the full range of 21st-century skills, more resources need to be focused on competency and character quality development and aligned to particular skills. This, in turn, would help educators better evaluate products that best address their needs and contexts.

We further place the existing instructional resources into a few main categories. Those include: personalized and adaptive content and curricula, open educational resources, communication and collaboration tools and interactive simulations and games.

Personalized and adaptive content and curricula

Personalized and adaptive education technologies have mostly focused on developing foundational literacies. Product developers are attempting to deliver differentiated learning with one-on-one computer-based learning tailored to individual student needs, often used effectively with blended-learning approaches mixing in-person and online instruction. These programs can be used in conjunction with in-classroom instruction, freeing up teachers’ time to deepen students’ understanding of the material and to develop skills like problem-solving, creativity and collaboration. They can also harness the power of data to dynamically assess learning, address gaps and track outcomes.

Some longstanding programs, such as Read 180, first assess students’ abilities, before later providing differentiated content based on a student’s level. Others are more real-time and adaptive. The Dreambox mathematics application continuously analyses student actions to deliver millions of personalized learning paths tailored to each student’s unique needs. Within one minute of work, the program can collect, analyse and respond to more than 800 pieces of data about a student and how he or she learns, according to the organization.

In addition to direct-to-student content, developers are also creating adaptive platforms. These can provide the back-end analytics necessary to offer an adaptive experience to students. For example, Knewton adaptively powers products from education companies ranging from start-ups to the largest publishers. Knewton provides an engine that allows others to build adaptive learning applications and experiences from a wide range of content, as well as to assess what works best. In addition, some companies are helping teachers create adaptive learning experiences for students: Smart Sparrow provides a platform for teachers to create “adaptive pathways” for the lesson materials they create. This allows teachers to design a unique and differentiated experience for students.

Exhibit 7: Most educational technologies are focused on developing foundational literacies

Note: Illustrative sample of resources and tools featured.

For adaptive learning platforms to work well, subject matter is often broken down into discrete topics that enable a logical progression from one concept to another. Part of the reason we see adaptive learning focused primarily on literacy and numeracy is that these skills have already been broken down into chunks of concepts and their connections, which a computer can use to pinpoint how knowledge builds. Standardized reading levels have been developed, as well as “knowledge maps” for mathematics concepts, such as those used by personalized learning resource Khan Academy. As a result, we see personalized and adaptive technologies currently most used to strengthen the closed loop in developing foundational literacies.

To reach their full potential and further develop competencies and character qualities, these technologies need to take fuller advantage of the vast amount of data that is collected as students learn. They can use the data to better understand not just what students know, but also how they interact with content and learn best.

Open educational resources

Open educational resources (OER) increase the variety, accessibility and availability of content and curricula. Similar to personalized and adaptive tools, the focus of OER is primarily on foundational literacies. Digital platforms such as LearnZillion, Curriki and BetterLesson are free repositories of vast amounts of open-source content, which is often user-generated. These platforms allow teachers and schools to upload, share, edit and rate content online, creating a bank of both content (subject-knowledge materials) and curricula (such as lesson plans and pedagogical materials) created and vetted by teachers. For example, LearnZillion features more than 4,000 free open-source videos, Curriki offers more than 50,000 resources, ranging from individual lessons to complete courses and BetterLesson includes more than 10,000 Common Core-aligned lessons.

Well-established publishers such as Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin are also incorporating OER into their proprietary materials and platforms to allow teachers to customize their lessons. Other players such as Fishtree are designing similar content-creation platforms through which educators can customize their lesson plans, drawing from a wide range of resources.

Given the vast amount of free and open-source content available on the internet and the limited degree of quality control, there is a pressing need to differentiate content by quality, relevance and standards alignment. Without such quality control, it is challenging for teachers to identify and incorporate high-quality content into their teaching. However, some select examples are beginning to provide aggregated and curated digital content. Through crowdsourcing and expert reviews, Curriki Geometry aggregates quality content and teaching materials from its platform into a comprehensive project-based geometry solution available for free. netTrekker contains a subscription-based repository of expert-reviewed, standards-aligned and carefully tagged content that makes it easier for teachers to find the resources they need.

Communication and collaboration tools

A number of tools are helping students develop competencies such as collaboration and communication by facilitating group work, peer-to-peer learning and peer feedback. These tools can be further enhanced by project-based and experiential-learning pedagogical approaches that help students work together to solve problems in real time.

Students can collaborate in real time on assignments using digital tools such as Google Apps for Education to collectively develop documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Online communication tools also allow students to help each other. Students can now create and share digital notebooks through tools such as OneNote; discuss readings and assignments, share related information and keep up with classroom announcements through social networking sites such as Facebook; and comment on and discuss assigned readings through such sites as Ponder.

Interactive simulations and games

Games and simulations allow students to go beyond the traditional lecture and to interact with instructional content in an engaging way that has been called “gameful learning”. Most of the activity in this corner of the education technology space is happening within numeracy and scientific literacy. Even so, games allow a focus on multiple skills at once: while students work to improve their understanding of core concepts, they can also develop skills such as creativity, curiosity and persistence in the process. These tools, along with new pedagogical approaches such as project-based learning, are therefore at the forefront of addressing skills gaps in competencies and character qualities.

Game-based programmes such as STMath use non-numerical visualizations to develop students’ intuitive understanding of mathematical concepts before attaching the symbols of traditional mathematics instruction. Instructional simulations, such as those from ExploreLearning and MolecularWorkbench, allow students to interact with abstract scientific concepts in ways that would be costly or impossible to replicate in the classroom.

Some developers are providing students with opportunities for indirect competency development through challenging experiences that require more advanced reasoning from students. For example, GlassLab has adapted the popular SimCity computer game to education, with robust assessments from ETS and Pearson and grant funding from the Gates and MacArthur foundations. SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge! has four missions, each with distinct focuses on developing standards-aligned skills such as systems and critical thinking and cause and effect.

Competencies are also being indirectly developed though platforms such as Tynker. The site’s interactive online learning games are used by more than 10,000 primary and secondary schools to teach basic computer programming skills and show potential to foster not just technological literacy but also competencies such as problem-solving, creativity, collaboration and persistence.

Few tech-based tools have been created that focus exclusively on character qualities development. This highlights the lack of attention that traditional education has given to these skills, as well as the opportunity available to product developers. An interesting exception is Games for Change, an organization that curates and incubates games focusing on social issues. Games have been developed that build social and cultural awareness in a variety of topics, including economics, the environment, civics and conflict. For example, Mission US: A Cheyenne Odyssey tells the story of westward expansion in the United States through the eyes of Native Americans.

Institutional resources that enable the closed loop to deliver outcomes

Two important sets of resources work to strengthen the closed loop at the institutional level, be it the school, network or district. Those improvements develop a key resource – teachers – as well as create better systems and data flows.

By broadly strengthening human capital and technology infrastructure – two critical elements often challenged in many educational systems – each set of resources allows for greater productivity, efficiency and effectiveness at all levels of the closed loop.

While we highlight a number of innovative examples, we observe that most digital professional development resources for teachers disproportionally focus on helping them improve foundational literacies in their students, without adequate attention to developing competencies and character qualities. To help address skills gaps, teacher training should be better aligned to 21st-century skills. In addition, administrators need to improve the use of data in learning and decision-making at both the school and system levels.

Digital professional development resources for teachers

For countries to succeed at generating 21st-century skills, they also need to help teachers more efficiently and productively develop their own skills.

Emerging online resources in professional development for teachers can have a positive impact, adding more instructional strategies to a teacher’s repertoire, as well as improving their ability to execute on these strategies in the classroom. Instead of attending a district-mandated workshop with a group of other teachers at a specific date and time, now teachers can also access materials that are targeted to their particular needs anytime and anywhere.

Platforms such as TeachScape and KDS are personalizing development by providing relevant digital courses to teachers. TeachScape features more than 160 digital courses and more than 2,500 high-quality videos of teaching practice, for example. Thanks to digital resources such as these, it is easier than ever before for teachers to get the help they need to improve their instructional skills.

Technology is also fostering collaboration and coaching among teachers through tools such as video feedback and remote coaching. Edthena, for example, allows teachers to upload their video-recorded lectures so that other teachers and mentors on the platform can give direct feedback about the strengths and weaknesses of their teaching. Another platform, Edconnective, allows teachers to connect remotely with experienced teachers who can coach them during one-on-one digital sessions targeted to their specific needs.

Across the teacher professional development space, another nascent trend involves developing digital courses specifically targeting competencies and character qualities. For example, KDS has a course, “21st-Century Skills”, in which teachers learn about new educational methods to teach higher-order skills. Traditional hardware-oriented technology players have also moved into the professional development space. In addition to providing face-to-face learning, they have developed blended-education approaches featuring online courses, materials and teacher communities such as Intel Teach and Microsoft Partners in Learning that governments, school leaders and teachers are using to develop 21st-century skills.

Student information and learning management systems

Technology is allowing student data to be generated from an increasing number of sources, ranging from more traditional student information systems (SISs), which collect enrollment, course history and achievement data, to classroom lessons, activities and digital instructional content platforms, which are frequently channelled through learning management systems (LMSs). In addition to collecting data, LMSs have tremendous potential to indirectly facilitate the development of 21st-century skills such as collaboration and communication as students interact with digital content and with each other.

Student information and learning management systems often operate in a vacuum, however, with too little sharing and interpretation of data to help educators and administrators make informed, data-driven decisions. One US Department of Education study found that only half of teachers could accurately interpret data from their systems, for example.[7]

Greater interoperability between LMSs and SISs would allow educators to have a more comprehensive view of student learning and performance. As systems such as these become more integrated and better able to continuously track data at a detailed level over time, they can offer educators and policy-makers a better understanding of student achievement in the context of teacher performance, course design and other areas.

Major players are starting to develop more integrated solutions, such as Pearson’s Schoolnet for PowerSchool, which combines assessment and reporting data into its widely used web-based SIS. Some charter schools are building interoperable systems as well, including Summit Public School’s partnership with Illuminate to combine an SIS with assessment and reporting data. Other examples, such as Edmodo, Schoology and Canvas, include customizable LMS platforms that aggregate a variety of content resources.

Building the closed loop on the ground

A great deal of activity is happening within school systems to use technology to address unique challenges at the local level. A few networks of schools demonstrate how technology can be used to develop 21st-century skills – where technology is needed most and where it focuses on different levels of the closed loop. The best examples of this work often reinforce pedagogical approaches such as experiential, project-based, inquiry-based and adaptive learning, which are critical to the teaching of 21st-century skills.

Three school networks illustrate the use of technology in different country contexts – Bridge International Academies in Kenya (a low-income country), Innova Schools in Peru (an upper-middle income country) and Summit Public Schools in the United States (a high-income OECD country). Each example exists along a continuum of technology deployment, ranging from more focused to more holistic. And each one prioritizes technology across the closed loop according to the respective challenges faced within a country. For instance, policy-makers might prioritize the use of education technology to provide country-specific solutions, such as by addressing a lack of technology infrastructure, while educators might use education technology to prioritize changes at the classroom and network level, such as by addressing teacher absenteeism. At the same time, these best practices have the potential to be transferred to environments that face similar challenges, including poor infrastructure, weak human capital development or low college-completion rates.

By highlighting these diverse school networks, our goal is not to evaluate their approaches, outcomes or impact. Our intention is simply to present the variety of ways technology solutions are being implemented given local challenges holding back the development of 21st-century skills. The school networks featured represent emerging examples of technology’s potential to find creative solutions to unique challenges at the local level, although these organizations’ insights have yet to work their way into the mainstream or reach notable scale. Nonetheless, these projects hint at the direction in which the education technology space may be moving and could offer powerful lessons to educators, policy-makers and the business community alike.

Bridge International Academies

Kenya faces a number of serious educational challenges related to human capital. For example, 42% of all instructional time is lost due to teacher absenteeism from the classroom.[8] In addition, only 35% of Kenya’s public school teachers display mastery in the subjects they teach.[9] As a reflection of these and other challenges, Kenyan students struggle to acquire even the most fundamental skills of literacy and numeracy: Kenya ranks in the 21st percentile for literacy and numeracy out of the 91 countries we studied.

Working within this resource-constrained context is Bridge International Academies, a private-school network of 405 schools spread across nearly every county in Kenya, with more than 120,000 children currently enrolled in its iconic lime-green-roofed academies. Bridge is using education technology in a highly focused way, primarily on one high-priority element of the closed loop – instructional delivery – to address foundational skills (see Exhibit 8). Given its context working in a low-income country significantly lacking in resources and infrastructure, Bridge uses a relatively low-tech approach, focusing the use of education technology on teachers, a critical educational resource. Its model, which separates content development from instructional delivery, is proving transferable to other similar low-resource environments facing human capital constraints.

Bridge employs master teachers to develop curricula centrally, in the form of scripted lesson plans for 40-minute lessons that are used in every classroom across the network. Individual teachers receive these scripted lessons electronically via a tablet, along with more than 300 hours of initial induction training and in-service professional development from coaches who visit schools every three weeks. Teachers hold the tablet while delivering the content, following detailed instructions specifying everything from instructional content to classroom activities. Through its scripted instructional delivery approach, Bridge provides a standardized learning experience across its network, helping to control for the high variability in teacher quality across the country. In addition, its approach of separating content development from delivery allows teachers to focus on teaching children instead of creating their own lesson plans, a task that can be particularly challenging when teachers haven’t mastered the curricula they teach. (Students learn with the help of traditional textbooks, workbooks, slates and other inexpensive tools.)

Technology also helps Bridge track teacher absenteeism rates and performance using its tablets, increasing teacher accountability – a key challenge in Kenya. To receive the centrally created curricula and lesson plans for the day, Bridge teachers must log on to their tablet when the day begins. This allows Bridge to see when teachers have arrived. Absences trigger automatic communications and follow-up actions, including calling in substitute teachers to cover classes. Through this tracking and reminder system, Bridge has been able to achieve teacher absenteeism rates of less than 0.5% in its schools, according to the organization. Teachers also connect their tablets to Bridge’s servers at the end of the day, sending data that includes teacher and student attendance, assessment scores, the start and ending time of every lesson and pages taught during lessons.

In a more limited way, Bridge also uses education technology in the closed loop to assess students, provide timely interventions and track student outcomes. Teachers manually input student performance data into Bridge’s tablet-based digital tracking system. Through this system, Bridge is able to follow up with interventions targeted to underperforming schools, as well as to modify curricula based on the most effective strategies for improving student outcomes. Student assessment data is also used to facilitate small-group and one-on-one tutoring.

As a result of its efforts to standardize teaching and learning, Bridge estimates that its students have gained almost an extra year of reading and mathematics instruction compared with neighbouring public schools.[10] In the process, Bridge offers an education at a relatively low price compared to similar schools. Attending a Bridge school costs an average of $7 per month, affordable enough for most of its low-income families, who earn an average of $136 per month, according to the organization.

In addition to adopting education technology in teaching and learning, Bridge also uses centralized technology platforms and systems that enable it to rapidly scale up its school model. The organization deploys standardized curricula, real estate, legal, human resources, production, marketing and other approaches across its network from the central office. For example, its research department pinpoints the best locations for a new academy to be built based on the needs and incomes of local families, using mobile surveys, GPS data from on-the-ground surveyors and satellite imagery.

Bridge’s focus on centralized systems, research and data collection and continuous feedback has allowed the network to launch a new school approximately every three days. The organization has set itself an ambitious goal of educating 10 million low-income students in a dozen countries within 10 years.

Exhibit 8: How Bridge International Academies uses education technology across the closed loop

Innova Schools

Peru also faces significant human capital challenges. Teachers have limited proficiency in even foundational literacies. According to 2007 census data, 62% of teachers did not reach an acceptable level on sixth grade reading tests and 92% did not reach an acceptable level for sixth grade mathematics.[11] These limitations in teaching ability and other factors are reflected in student performance: in 2013, only 17% of nationally assessed students were proficient in mathematics and 33% were proficient in literacy.[12]

Consider how Innova Schools is tackling these and other obstacles in a lower-middle-income environment. The low-cost private-school network aims to provide a world-class education to the growing Peruvian lower-middle class. It currently serves more than 13,000 students in 23 schools, with a target of 75,000 students in 70 schools by 2021. To do this, Innova’s use of technology focuses not just on teachers, but also on students, with the greatest integration within instructional delivery, support for its inquiry-based pedagogy and assessment (see Exhibit 9). Its model could be transferable to other environments facing a mix of challenges involving human capital development and other factors.

Innova uses a two-pronged, teacher-focused approach to combat the nation’s human capital problems in education. Like Bridge, the network also develops its curriculum centrally. To date, it has created more than 20,000 scripted lessons for teachers, accessible through its Teacher Resource Center, a repository of teacher resources designed by a group of in-house specialists. Innova has also developed a holistic professional development strategy, investing heavily in teacher training and coaching. Teachers receive more than 100 hours of training per year through a corporate university and partnerships with leading institutions, as well as support through career development and mentorship programmes. Instructional coaches observe and give teachers feedback, record data from teacher observations on its online Teacher Observation Platform and identify teachers who may be struggling and need additional support. To ensure success with its innovations, Innova principals act as instructional leaders within the school: they make learning a priority at all school levels, use professional learning communities to build teacher capacity and rely on data analysis to track progress and direct actions.

Although professional development elements such as these are not strongly reliant on technology, they provide the foundation on which Innova has successfully deployed technology throughout the closed-loop system. Building on that base, Innova focuses on providing a deep integration of educational technology into the instructional delivery element of the closed loop. The school uses a blended learning approach in which students spend 30% of class time on computer-based learning (“solo time”) and 70% on teacher-led collaborative learning sessions (“group time”). During computer-based solo time, students learn at their own pace through Khan Academy for mathematics, MyEnglishLab for English-language reading and writing, Leo for Spanish and Modus for science. Once students have acquired basic knowledge on a topic, teachers can focus group time on applying new content to different situations, working on more complex problems, thinking critically and helping students collaborate and communicate with one another.

Computer-based learning platforms also allow Innova to assess students in real time, provide timely interventions and track student outcomes. Each of the technology products Innova uses has a dashboard feature that highlights areas of difficulty for individual students. Students may use virtual tools outside of the school day for additional practice on concepts they may be struggling with. In addition, teachers review assessment data at the end of each quarter to identify areas for improvement and to plan for the quarter ahead.

Education technology serves to complement Innova’s pedagogical approach of inquiry-based learning during group time. Classes start with a set of questions that challenge students, use their prior knowledge and engage them in the learning process. Once students explore the answers to those questions, teachers help them build new knowledge through short concept overviews and more challenging questions which they resolve collaboratively.

In part as a result of these elements of the closed loop, 61% of Innova students tested proficient in mathematics and 83% in literacy, up to three times higher than the national average. In addition, 86% of Innova students attend university or a technical college, according to the organization.

Innova is testing and learning from its efforts to improve these results further. It is currently piloting a "flipped classroom" instructional model that relies on digital content students can access at home to improve foundational literacies, while maximizing classroom time to collaborate with teachers and other students as they extend their skills and develop competencies and character qualities.

Exhibit 9: How Innova Schools uses education technology across the closed loop

Summit Public Schools

While the United States ranks in the middle of OECD countries on many 21st-century skills, significant differences remain between high-income and low-income students in the country’s public schools. For instance, only 30% of low-income students enroll in college, compared with 80% of high-income students.[13] And low-income students drop out of college at almost three times the rate of those with high-incomes.[14]

Summit Public Schools, a network of nine charter schools based in the San Francisco Bay Area and Washington State serving a diverse student body of nearly 2,000 students, seeks to address these challenges with a mission of preparing students for success in college, career and life. Summit holistically deploys education technology across the closed loop, with a focus on teachers and students and uses education technology to strengthen its project- and competency-based learning approach (see Exhibit 10). Its model could be transferable to other developed-country environments with similar challenges that also feature a high degree of teacher autonomy.

Starting with learning objectives, Summit has developed a shared skill rubric that incorporates 36 skills targeted at college readiness, including competencies such as critical thinking. Summit believes that all students should be prepared with the foundational literacies, higher-order competencies and character qualities needed to be successful in college.

In terms of curricula and instruction, Summit students spend the majority of their time on project-based learning and teacher-led sessions. For the remainder of the day, students work through assignments at their own pace. The self-directed component enables Summit students to take responsibility for their own learning and to strengthen character qualities such as persistence, initiative, curiosity and adaptability, while the group component fosters further development of competencies through discussion, critical thinking and collaboration.

Summit’s curricula features more than 200 activities that focus on developing skills such as problem-solving and communication, according to the organization. Project-based activities are mapped to a cognitive-skills rubric that is shared across all subject areas and grade levels. Summit assesses students on their development of cognitive skills through other activities, based on the rubric. Students submit all assignments using Google Docs to give feedback to each other and receive feedback from their teachers.

Summit’s content curricula relies on in-house designed “digital playlists” for online, self-directed learning. Playlists include multiple types of internally and externally developed content, such as exercises, videos and quizzes, mapped to specific skills within its learning rubric. Students advance through these playlists at their own pace, taking assessments as they feel ready. In addition to the playlists, students work on platforms such as Khan Academy to improve foundational literacies.

Thanks to specially designed performance tracking software known as a personalized learning plan (PLP), students evaluate their learning in real time and help set their learning goals for the week, month, semester and year with the help of a mentor with whom students meet weekly. In terms of assessment and progress tracking, Summit takes a unique approach: teachers work as coaches to help students interpret their successes and failures, learn how to set new plans and goals and push their skill development.

The PLP, assessments and measurements of skill growth are viewable by other grade-level teachers and administrators, which helps teachers and school leaders devise appropriate interventions to improve student outcomes. Parents can also log into the PLP to see a student’s progress.

Students typically arrive at Summit schools with slightly lower scores than students at local high schools, yet outperform their peers during their time at its charter schools, according to the organization. Summit schools have consistently performed above California’s measure of a successful school, with an average score of 826 on the state’s Academic Performance Index (successful schools are defined as those scoring 800 or greater on the API test). Thanks to its college-prep-focused curricula in which every student takes six AP courses, 96% of Summit students are accepted to at least one four-year college or university. They complete college within six years at double the national average.

Exhibit 10: How Summit Public Schools uses education technology across the closed loop


  1. ^ Rankin, Jenny. “When Data Systems Actively Support Data Analysis.” EdSurge. June 28, 2014.
  2. ^ Martin, Gayle H. and Obert Pimhidzai. “Education and Health Services in Kenya: Data for Results and Accountability.” Service Delivery Indicators Initiative. World Bank, African Economic Research Consortium and African Development Bank. 2013.
  3. ^ Ibid.
  4. ^The Bridge Effect: Comparison of Bridge Pupils to Peers at Nearby Schools EGRA-EGMA Evaluation Programme.” Bridge International Academies. Fall 2013 results, with a July 2011 baseline.
  5. ^An Alternative Reading of the IADB Study on Peru's OLPC Implementation.” One Laptop Per Child. 2012.
  6. ^ Census Evaluation of Students (Sistema de Consulta de Resultados de la Evaluación Censal de Estudiantes, ECE (SICRECE). Innova Schools data. 2013.
  7. ^ Bailey, Martha J. and Susan M. Dynarski. “Gains and Gaps: Changing Inequality in US College Entry and Completion.” NBER Working Paper No. 17633. December 2011.
    See also: http://www.mnprivatecolleges.org/sites/default/files/downloads/news/college_by_income.pdf.
  8. ^Six-Year Degree Attainment Rates for Students Initially Enrolled in Four-Year Institutions.” Pell Institute. December 2011.