States Stepping Up Role in Reviewing Digital Resources, Analysis Finds

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As states give individual school districts more freedom to choose digital instructional materials, they’re also playing a more active role in reviewing locally chosen resources–either as a service, or as an attempt at quality-control.

That was one of the takeaways from a new report by the State Educational Technology Directors Association, which breaks down how state policies are attempting to support tech-based learning.

Twenty-one states today have a process for reviewing digital instructional materials, compared with 17 states in 2016 and 14 three years ago, according to SETDA, a nonprofit which represents state ed-tech leaders.

Several factors explain states’ interest in reviewing digital classroom materials. One is that states are moving away from mandating choices of instructional materials and toward giving districts more choices, a shift that has accelerated as the market has gradually moved from print to digital, said Christine Fox, SETDA’s deputy executive director, in an interview.

As states have ceded control, they have sought to help districts, particularly smaller ones with fewer resources, make informed choices, she said.

States are also determined to give districts and schools information on whether instructional materials are aligned with academic standards, such as the common core. In some cases, the rise of open educational resources–materials created on licenses that allow them to be freely shared and altered–have compelled states to set policies to help local districts review them.

Twelve states have review processes specifically for open educational materials, the report found. States are also trying to settle on definitions of open resources, and turning to resources such as UNESCO and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, said Fox.

Other highlights of state policy on digital resources:

  • 29 states have a definition for digital instructional materials in their policies, a slight increase from last year;
  • 6 states in some way require the adoption of digital materials;
  • 19 states provide guidance to publishers that want to sell instructional materials in those markets;
  • 23 states have definitions for accessible technologies for students with special needs, up from 18 last year;
  • 15 states have dedicated state funding for digital materials; and
  • 26 states have a digital learning repository.

Fox points to another area where state policies are evolving: in promoting accessibility of digital materials for students with special needs.

Thirty-one states had a definition for accessible instructional educational materials in 2017, up from 27 states a year earlier. Twenty-three states have a definition for accessible technologies, an increase from 18 the previous year.

“An equitable learning environment does not mean students have equal digital tools,” the report explains. Instead, “all students should use the tools that support their learning needs, [such as] switches, augmentative communications devices, and scheduling tools. Accessibility refers to having the tools available for use and the ability to use the tools.”

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