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Few LA students using Pearson's iPad software, survey shows

Developer Oscar Menjivar sits with student Jesus Vargas, checking out the Pearson education software loaded onto every L.A. Unified iPad.
Developer Oscar Menjivar sits with student Jesus Vargas, checking out the Pearson education software loaded onto every L.A. Unified iPad. Annie Gilbertson/KPCC

This story has been updated.

Most Los Angeles Unified schools are not using the learning software pre-loaded on to iPads as part of the the district's one-to-one technology expansion, according to an interim report commissioned by the school district. 

Staff complained the administration's chosen software simply wasn't "robust." They told researchers lessons were often missing or incomplete. 

"Administrators at three schools said that components of the ELA curriculum were missing (e.g., narrative writing, Grade 3 curriculum), and administrators at two schools said that mathematics components were missing," according to American Institutes of Research, authors of the report, Evaluation of the Common Core Technology Project.

District officials held a press conference Thursday to say they're working with Pearson to close the gaps, and the full software will be delivered to schools soon.

For the study, researchers surveyed teachers, observed 250 classroom sessions and reviewed district documents to study how classrooms integrated the technology. It is not considered a scientific study.

The researchers found only 3o of 245 teachers used iPads for English and Math instruction. Students in other classrooms used the devices as a word processor, to watch non-academic movies or play games. In some classrooms, the iPads weren't used at all.

"Another school respondent said that s/he thought that the ELA curriculum was effective,  but  that  'their   technology  component...  doesn’t  back  up  their  lessons  very  well;  we  have  to  go  ahead  and  do   our  own  on  the  side  using  other  apps  [e.g.,  Notability],  things  to  support  that,' " according to the report.

Elementary teachers using iPads as part of instruction bypassed the Pearson educational software loaded on the devices and instead used an English program by Lexia and math game-based software by ST Math. 

Both had submitted bids for the district's $500 million contract to provide tablets and educational software for every student and teacher. In evaluating the bids, L.A. Unified staffers dismissed both programs as digital textbooks, scoring them lower than Pearson's courses. 

The report also found schools lack support staff.

"Technical issues were the most frequently reported barrier" to using the software, according to the report. "These included problems with wireless connectivity isues, apps, and hardware."

Bernadette Lucas, who is managing the tablet program, said the school district increased technology and instructional support staff to about 55 people. As the program grows from the pilot to all schools, Lucas said it will be up to principals to make room for tech support in their general budgets.

"There will be a sustained need to tech support and instructional support," Lucas said.

Board member Tamar Galatzan said the report marks a learning opportunity.

"We always planned to do an analysis of the program after Phase 1, and the AIR evaluation tells us clearly the areas we need to improve as we move forward," Galatzan said.

Less than a month ago, Superintendent John Deasy canceled the contract with Apple and Pearson.

The decision followed on the heels of a KPCC investigation showing repeated communication and meetings between Pearson's executives and top district staff nearly a year ahead of the bids. 

Pearson staff proposed delivering iPads loaded with its materials for $50 per student. Details of those offers in email conversations resembled requirements L.A. Unified made of companies seeking to get the contract, documents and emails show. Critics now question whether the purchase was fair.

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