"I can't recommend our district buy 400 iPads when we don't have enough computers for our students to take those tests," says Callahan. Even though iPads meet minimum PARCC hardware requirements, Callahan says computers offer an entirely different testing experience.
Still, teachers at Drury and other schools in North Adams are experimenting with different ways to integrate iPads. Last year, a class of seniors at Drury High used tablets while studying Shakespeare — tapping into the wealth of free Shakespeare apps, thanks to an English teacher attaining iPad2s from the school.
At the end of the day, Callahan admits, "I'm definitely in favor of more iPad purchases. . . . I think standardized tests are a problem." But, he says, "the reality is, schools are still based on these assessments."
BOSTON PUBLIC SCHOOLS: LOW-COST HIGH-TECH SPECIAL-ED
Last year, special-education teachers throughout Boston Public Schools traded outdated technology for shiny new iPads. Now, public-school students with autism have access to cutting-edge assistive technology — including hundreds of apps designed to replace old-school learning tools.
Old methods of teaching verbally impaired kids meant many educators were carrying around stacks of paper cards (each card representing one word a student might need to form a sentence). Lost cards could limit a student's ability to communicate — a problem solved by iPad apps offering similar icons in digital form.
And unlike cumbersome assistive speech devices, Melissa Dodd, chief information officer for BPS's Office of Instructional and Information Technology (OIIT), says the tablets don't carry a stigma — iPads come with the "cool factor."
Stimulus funding helped BPS purchase their first 200 iPads in 2011, and last year they received a grant from Verizon to expand the program. By the time summer break started, more than 90 teachers had already received professional development training.
"The iPad, in this particular area, is really the next evolution," Dodd says. "It is so easy for students, and teachers, to learn the tool and use the tool."
But Boston's special-ed iPad program isn't the first time the nation's oldest public school district has worked for widespread technology upgrades. In 2008, Boston Public Schools partnered with Boston College's Lynch School of Education to launch the Laptops for Learning initiative. All teachers and principals in more than 100 Boston schools received laptops for "one of the largest research studies of urban teachers' use of technology to date."
Lead by Damian Bebell, the research study aims to document data about technology's impact on education — an effort to establish empirical evidence for schools to consult while making technology decisions for the future.
"[The iPad] isn't a silver bullet," Bebell says. "But it's a very, very powerful tool."
Ariel Shearer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.