AUBURN — If you ask Park Avenue Elementary School teacher Jacquelyn Mitchell if she thinks iPad tablet computers are helping her students, she'll give you a big smile.
“They're awesome,” Mitchell said. They help students gain skills, improve skills and help teachers provide individual, customized learning, she said.
This is the third year Auburn is providing iPads to kindergartners, the second year for first-graders and the first year for second-graders.
In a report about iPad use and how teachers are rolling out customized learning, teachers emphatically told the School Committee on Wednesday night that iPads help student learning.
Teachers explained how they are customizing learning by providing students with choices on different ways to learn lessons. Students are now expected to understand not just what they're doing, but what they need to learn, which helps them take ownership of their education, they said. Technology is a part of that, they said.
Teachers said they can't imagine teaching without iPads and student motivation has skyrocketed because of the devices. In a video played for committee members, Fairview teacher Stephanie Hathaway said iPads provide instant feedback on where students are and what they need to do. Feedback that used to take weeks now takes minutes, which helps her meet individual student needs.
In a Park Avenue school classroom Wednesday, first- and second-graders used iPads in impressive ways.
Lauren Hodgkins, 6, took pictures of fellow students using the iPad at the request of the Sun Journal.
Meanwhile, Sammy Brooker, 7, used his iPad during science to locate a map showing where copperhead snakes live. He looked up vivid photos and facts of the snake, and read aloud the characteristics. The task took him seconds.
Since Auburn decided to teach with iPads, hundreds of schools in Maine and across the nation have followed suit; iPads in class are now common.
But test data on the impact of iPads is less clear. Administrators cautioned there is no “aha” results that prove or disprove iPads; no data singles out iPad learning.
Test scores measure overall learning and the iPad is just one tool. “We can't attribute what we're seeing here to just the iPad,” administrator Sue Dorris told the School Committee.
A positive sign is that student growth from September to June has improved since iPads were introduced, Superintendent Katy Grondin said.
During the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years, student achievement grew in seven out of eight content areas for first- and second-graders, Grondin said.
For example, in the fall of 2011, 48 percent of kindergarten students were proficient at phonics skills. That percentage improved to 81 percent proficient in the spring. In the fall of 2012, 51 percent of first-graders were proficient at reading. That number improved to 76 percent in the spring.
But when comparing how the same class of students did after two years of using iPads, results were mixed.
Comparing how kindergarten students did in the spring of 2012 to how they did this past spring as first-graders, proficiency percentages were lower in four areas, higher in three.
For instance, in reading, 68 percent of kindergartners were proficient at their grade level in the spring of 2012; 76 percent proficient when the same class was first-graders.
In numeracy, a math category, 85 percent of kindergartners were proficient in the spring of 2012; 80 percent proficient in 2013 as first-graders.
First-graders may have had a handicap because they used iPads in kindergarten, then went to first grade with teachers who never had iPads before, said committee Chairman Tom Kendall. “We would have been further ahead if we moved the knowledgeable teachers with the knowledgeable child.”
With the exception of one test area, phonemic awareness, which was 60 percent in the spring, “our first-grade data shows our proficiency percentage ranges from 76 percent to 92 percent, which is very good,” Dorris said.
Overall the results are positive, Kendall said.
“We went back four years looking at what we did traditionally, and with two years of iPads. Did we have improvement? For the most part, yes.”