A new Alliance for Excellent Education digital case study demonstrates how one predominantly low-income school district dramatically improved student engagement in the classroom and increased high school graduation rates through project-based learning (PBL) and the effective use of technology.
The case study, which includes short video segments with educators and students, focuses on Talladega County Schools in Alabama, where technology is an important component that builds students’ abilities to solve real-world problems; master college- and career-ready academic standards; and develop skills in communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and other deeper learning competencies. (For a short video profile of Talladega, click on the image to the right or visit https://youtu.be/n8sGdsD0U4E.)
“Talladega County Schools is a glowing example of how an entire community can come together to raise high school graduation rates and learning outcomes,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Talladega County Schools’s commitment to the use of project-based learning and technology to prepare students for college and a career has resulted in access to high-quality instruction, challenging digital content and tools, and dedicated teachers for students who need them most,” said Wise.
Located fifty miles east of Birmingham, Talladega County Schools serves an overwhelmingly low-income population—75 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Faced with that challenge, as well as poor test scores and low high school graduation rates, a leadership team of administrators, teachers, students, community members, and county business leaders visited model schools across the nation. The Talladega team focused on schools that leverage technology to engage students, increase the rigor of student course work, improve student attendance, and focus on deeper learning.
“We looked at a variety of [instructional] methodologies to determine what would work best for us,” said Vicky Ozment, Talladega’s coordinator of instruction and personnel. “We really liked the technology [component] and how it enhanced learning at all of the schools [we visited], so we knew it had to be part of what we ended up doing.”
The case study, “Building a Foundation: How Technology-Rich Project-Based Learning Transformed Talladega County Schools,” describes how the district implemented a PBL model using a digital learning framework to engage students with an extended inquiry learning process that paired complex questions with carefully designed tasks.
As a result, Talladega County increased its districtwide high school graduation rate from 72 percent in 2007 to 90 percent in 2014. Talladega also experienced changes in student attitudes toward learning and improved academic outcomes. Survey results at Talladega’s Childersburg High School show that 83 percent of students felt the new PBL model was more challenging than previous curricula. At Winterboro, a neighboring high school, graduation rates improved from 63 percent in 2009 to 90 percent in 2014. The district that once struggled to keep students interested in learning is now working to implement a 1:1 digital-device-to-student program. Because of its efforts, the Alliance featured Talladega at its third annual Digital Learning Day in 2014.
“Building a Foundation” identifies key factors that supported Talladega County’s transformation and includes several recommendations for schools and school districts interested in changing their own learning models. Strengthening school culture, increasing student engagement, integrating technology, partnering with community organizations, and increasing professional development and support for teachers all contributed to Talladega’s success, turning this once struggling school system into a model for district transformation.
“Building a Foundation: How Technology-Rich Project-Based Learning Transformed Talladega County Schools” is available online at https://all4ed.org/reports-factsheets/talladega/.