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Schools Can’t Evaluate All Those Ed-Tech Products. Help Is on the Way

Seven leading education technology organizations—including the International Society for Technology in Education and the Consortium for School Networking—are teaming up to help school districts scrutinize a deluge of education technology products and applications.

The organizations collaborated to articulate a single set of key factors districts should consider in evaluating ed-tech tools, such as safety and usability.

They aim to create a one-stop resource educators can use to quickly determine which products and applications have been examined and recommended by reputable, independent reviewers. (ISTE, for instance, offers a seal on technology applications that meet its standards.)

Many districts don’t have the manpower to carefully evaluate new learning technology—or fully get their arms around the thousands of programs they’re already using.

Districts around the country accessed an average of 2,591 distinct ed-tech tools during the 2022-23 school year, according to LearnPlatform, an ed-tech company. And that number may grow as developers create artificial intelligence-powered tools for classrooms.

“The goal here is take the burden off of schools,” said Richard Culatta, ISTE’s CEO, in an interview. “An ed-tech company can’t validate itself. It can’t be like, ‘We checked. We’re good.’ [They] have to be validated by a credible third party.”

Dealing with a myriad of district quality-review processes can also be a headache for companies, because they want to demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of their products and platforms as efficiently as possible, the organizations behind the effort contend.

The 5 elements of a quality product or service

In addition to ISTE and CoSN, the organizations behind the effort include 1EdTech CAST, Digital Promise, InnovateEDU, and the State Educational Technology Directors Association, or SEDTA.

Together, they have decided that quality ed-tech products must be:

  • Safe, so they protect students’ and teachers’ personal data;
  • Evidence-based or grounded in sound research;
  • Inclusive, and accessible to a broad range of students;
  • Usable, so they’re teacher-and-student friendly; and
  • Interoperable, so they easily connect with other school technology.

When it comes to the quality of ed-tech tools, “we are agreeing that there are five elements that we need to be talking about and we’re going to call them the same thing,” Culatta said. “That alone is giving a level of clarity both to schools, and to the industry, that they have not had ever until this point.”

The organizations will also create a clearinghouse, where educators can see whether a particular tool has been validated by an organization with expertise in each of these five areas. Right now, no clearinghouse offers certifications from a range of credible reviewers.

The effort comes at a key moment. Educators need to be more deliberate and discerning in purchasing education technology, because schools are up against the final deadlines for spending federal COVID relief cash, Culatta said.

The end of that funding—which helped pay for Internet connectivity and digital learning tools in many districts—“forces us to up our game a bit” in evaluating ed tech, Culatta said.

During the rapid pivot to virtual learning spurred by the pandemic, many educators embraced tech tools that “maybe weren’t ready for prime time, maybe weren’t the best that they needed to be,” Culatta said. “It’s time to really double down on the stuff that’s really working well, that’s really making an impact. And if it’s not, we shouldn’t be spending money. We shouldn’t be putting it in front of kids.’”

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