The Saugus Union School District is currently carrying out an education reform program known as SWATTEC: Student Writing Achievement Through Technology Enhanced Collaboration.
As part of this initiative, since January 2009, all fourth grade students in the district have been provided a low-cost Asus Eee PC netbook computer, together with an open source Linux-based operating system, a wide array of other open source software, access to free cloud-based or online resources, and a subscription to a commercial online writing and essay scoring program called MY Access!
We have conducted a study of this SUSD program as part of a national research project investigating laptops in education, and specifically the educational use of low-cost netbooks and open source software.
The project investigated:
- the impact of the program on teaching and learning processes,
- the impact of the program on learning outcomes in writing and English language arts,
- the particular impact of the program on diverse learners, and
- the perceived match of netbook and open source software with the needs of teachers and students and their suitability in educational improvement efforts.
Our analysis of test scores indicates that (1) there were statistically significant improvements in student performance in writing and English language arts following implementation of the laptop program, with students increasing test scores from third to fourth grade more after the program was implemented than before; (2) at-risk students increase their test score performance more than non at-risk students, thus helping close achievement gaps, and (3) test score gains were greatest for students who used the laptops the most.
Our observations and interviews, survey results, and analysis of test score data all point to the same conclusion: the SWATTEC program has had a positive effect on teaching and learning of writing and English language arts in SUSD. Furthermore, while all demographic groups benefited from the program, the greatest benefit accrued to those students most at risk.
These are impressive achievements, given the program is still in its early stages of implementation. We have not conducted a cost-benefit analysis to see how these results might compare to other benefits that could be received at a similar cost. However, since the district uses a low-cost netbook and, for the most part, free open source software, the overall cost is low and the ratio of benefits to cost appears high.
Results to date suggest that the program should be continued and, if possible, extended to additional grade levels.
From Final Report on Saugus Union School District's SWATTEC Program by Mark Warschauer, Binbin Zheng, and George Farkas, University of California, Irvine