Data-Driven Software Improves Literacy

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Too often the use of student information by schools and teachers to improve learning is overshadowed by unrealistic and mistaken fears that school service providers are using student information to target our children with digital ads. As I wrote in an earlier blog, current law bans digital advertising based on information that school service providers gather from students and the industry is in compliance with that prohibition.  Unfortunately, these unrealistic fears drive well-intentioned state and federal legislators to consider unnecessary legislation to ban what is already illegal and to stamp out non-existent evils.

Teachers and schools do collect and use detailed information about students – but they do it to improve student learning. One use is to personalize the teaching of reading for struggling readers.  As too many teachers can attest, the number of students reading below grade level is far too high.  Without on-grade reading skills, every other instructional activity suffers, leading to across-the-board poor performance.  If not reversed, this can ultimately lead to dropping out.

Software programs have been devised that offer struggling students personalized learning support based on their own instructional history. These systems record how students engage with reading material, assess their successes, ascertain where there is room for improvement, and offer engaging interactive instructional material designed to guide the students forward.  Tracking how these students interact with reading material is not a harmful intrusion. It is not a method to gather information to sell the data or a way to snoop or spy on students – it is a way to assess their instructional needs and design future interactions to make learning resources more focused and more effective.

This is the promise of data-driven education that uses student information to help struggling readers. But does it work?

One success story was on display at a recent Washington, D.C. event sponsored by Congressman Marc Veasey, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and SIIA.  Speakers addressed how technology could address the skills gap in education, and they also saw hands-on demonstrations of effective educational technology tools.  One of them was Pearson’s iLit, a literacy program for struggling readers.  This all-digital program can be used directly in the classroom, but it supplements classroom activities with instructional material aimed at individual students and uses student data to build and focus instruction, helping teachers to make sure that the right instruction goes to the right student.

And it produces measurable results. In city after city, research showed that students gain 2+ years of reading growth in a single year.

Of course, this is only one of the many resources available to schools and teachers, and by giving it a shout-out, I do not intend to promote this product at the expense of other similarly designed and effective literacy resources.  But the story is a good one: dedicated teachers armed with the latest in educational tools are using information about their students to improve their performance in reading.

The next time you read a story about how advertising-hungry educational service providers are “tracking” our students, remember that data-driven software helps struggling readers regain lost ground and move rapidly toward reading on-grade.

Mark Mark MacCarthy, Senior Vice President, Public Policy at SIIA, directs SIIA’s public policy initiatives in the areas of intellectual property enforcement, information privacy, cybersecurity, cloud computing and the promotion of educational technology. Follow Mark on Twitter at @Mark_MacCarthy.