At the end of some classes, Kimberly Scott directs her students at Chantilly High School to open Google Docs or Google Forms on their school-issued laptops and share two insights and one conundrum they took away from the day’s lesson.
The 10th-grade English teacher in the Northern Virginia suburbs exports the students’ responses to a spreadsheet, which she saves and from which she aggregates. Scott, who has taught for nearly 25 years, used to collect the answers on paper slips as students made their way out of class.
Providing laptops to all of her students has forced the veteran teacher to think about new ways of teaching.
“I have to keep myself trying new things,” she said. “Last year was a hugely revolutionary year for me. I almost went paperless.”
Fairfax County Public Schools rolled out the laptops at Chantilly in 2016, as well as the eight middle and elementary schools that send students to the high school. Students at six other high schools were issued laptops through a state grant.
Now the program will be expanded to schoolchildren throughout the Fairfax system, which educates about 188,000 students on 198 campuses. All high school students will receive laptops for the school year that starts at the end of August, and plans are in place to put the devices in the hands of all students in the third grade and beyond by 2023.
The five-year rollout of Dell Latitude 3300 laptops is expected to cost $30 million.
When students analyze Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” for Scott’s class, she guides them to a TEDEd video describing what makes something “Kafkaesque.” She can review the history of revisions on students’ writing assignments. And students can message Scott questions in class, which may be less stressful for teenagers who are too shy to raise their hands.
Scrutiny has followed the decision to issue laptops to students in some school systems, including in Baltimore County, where the move has yet to yield the higher test scores some had hoped.
Research examining the effects of classroom laptop use on student achievement is mixed. A wide-ranging report in 2015 showed that countries that made large investments in technology for education did not see improved results in reading, math or science.
The Fairfax system, the largest in Virginia and among the biggest in the nation, commissioned Johns Hopkins University to study the effects of laptops in schools that have already received computers.
In the second year of the study, which looked at the 2017-2018 school year, teachers and students said they thought the laptops helped keep students more engaged. But some parents expressed concern about the quality of digital instruction and distractions from the computer.
School systems elsewhere in the Washington region already have adopted programs that provide laptops to all students, or they have built up laptop supplies. Arlington Public Schools provides every student with an iPad Air or a MacBook Air starting in third grade.
Sloan Presidio, an assistant superintendent for Fairfax County Public Schools, said equipping students with laptops is not about boosting standardized test scores. The computers, he said, are crucial for kids as they develop skills such as critical thinking, collaboration and communication.
At Robert E. Lee High School, where students range in their English proficiency, social studies teacher Elizabeth Evans said laptops allow teenagers to review information at their own pace and watch videos more than once, if needed.
Students can also investigate questions online in class or use the laptops to watch videos of Evans relaying class notes.
Robert E. Lee High School received laptops as part of a grant from the Virginia Department of Education to help schools with academic struggles.
Evans said the school-issued laptops are the only computers many students’ families have at home.
“Every kid having a laptop does not make education equitable, but it is an important step in that direction,” she said.