Quality of instruction still matters the most.

When students tote tablet computers to class, they need less in their backpacks.

This year's school supplies list for students headed to the new Garden City High School, where Apple iPads will be issued, has dwindled because iPads do the work of calculators, notebooks and other traditional tools.

For example, calculators will be available free via iPad applications. District and student purchases of various other supplies be it notebooks, copy paper, binders or textbooks will decline in years to come as the tablets erase the need for those items.

While such savings always helps, the bigger issue as the district's new one-to-one technology initiative unfolds will be in how tablets in the classroom improve student performance.

Early signs have been encouraging. A one-to-one pilot program in the high school during the past school year produced good results, with enhanced communication between students and teachers cited as one benefit.

Students also discovered how they could maintain several projects, textbooks and other information all in one place with an iPad. Plus, teachers may tailor tablet use to their own subjects.

District patrons who questioned the need for the technology program estimated at more than $1.8 million over three years should know that schools charged with preparing youngsters to succeed in a rapidly changing technological environment have to equip those students with the most effective tools available.

As USD 457 Superintendent Rick Atha said, it wasn't a matter of if the district made the move to the new technology by equipping students and teachers with tablets, but when.

Tablets have become the computer of choice in schools and beyond because of their versatility and ability to replace laptops, textbooks and other materials. It's also easy to see how the stunning video, photos, narrative and other content on a tablet could do more to engage students in their work than traditional books and worksheets.

That said, even the most groundbreaking device could never substitute for quality instruction itself. Moving forward, the true test will be in how valuable the tablets are in giving teachers a way to better present curriculum, connect with students and boost overall achievement.