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Technology in Schools
NCES 2003-313
November 2002

Chapter 4: Technology Applications, Technology in Schools: Suggestions, Tools, and Guidelines for Assessing Technology in Elementary and Secondary Education

"Technology's a lot like the rungs on a ladder. Once you reach one level, there's another one higher up to aspire to."

David Dwyer, former director of the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow project and currently Apple's Director of Education Technology. Excerpted from "Taking Stock: What Does the Research Say about Technology's Impact on Education?" in the May 1998 issue of Technology & Learning Magazine

What to Expect from This Chapter

  • Resources and ideas for evaluating technology applications in relation to management and instructional needs
  • Suggestions for tracking applications and software through their useful life cycle
    • Suggestions for assessing applications in terms of their support for learning standards
    • What to look for in decision support and communication software
  • Understanding the range and potential of technology applications in schools


Key Questions for this Chapter

  1. Do the school or district's instructional applications support teaching and learning standards across the curriculum?
  2. Is there software support for technology tool skill development
  3. Does the school/district use technology applications to improve communication?
  4. Does the school/district have appropriate software and systems to support primary administrative functions?
  5. Are the applications in use evaluated for effectiveness?



This chapter focuses on key questions and indicators to assess the presence and utilization of instructional and administrative technology applications. The subject matter of this chapter is primarily software, but also includes other applications that have come to be considered important to a school's mission: electronic mail and other communications technologies, Internet and web access including web pages, access to online content, and the capacity to securely transmit data, as well as security-related applications.

Assessing the presence and utilization of equipment is a necessary part of evaluating the impact of technology in schools, but it is hardly sufficient. A further step in assessment involves the extent to which applications important to schools' function are being run on this equipment.

As with hardware, enterprises (including schools and districts) have a number of important reasons for tracking the installed base of software and applications; making sure software is properly licensed and unlicensed software is not running on school system machines is just one of them. An inventory database of installed and permitted software and applications is a natural requirement for a school or district. If such an inventory system is properly maintained and can produce useful reports, responding to many questions can be straightforward. The information that should be included in a database system in order to support this capacity is the topic of this chapter.

No attempt has been made to cover all of the possible types of software and applications that might be included. As with other chapters, enough indicators are given to provide examples; users can adapt these examples to their own school or district's situation, or develop new ones.


Defining Technology Applications

The term technology applications refers to software and systems, run on school equipment, that support important administrative and instructional functions. The following functions represent the major categories of technology applications for schools and districts:

  • Administrative management software and systems: Financial accounting; staff attendance and payroll; budgeting; operations and planning, including transportation and food systems; facilities management; inventory control; and decision support;
  • Instructional support software and systems: Instructional planning and management, including grading, testing, and individualized educational program (IEP) management; instructional support, including student attendance; access to remote educational resources; and distance education. Also included are assistive and adaptive systems, discussed in Chapter 7, Technology Integration;
  • Communications support: Electronic mail; local- and wide-area networks; access to the Internet and remote educational and administrative sites; satellite uplinks and downlinks; and Internet-based telephony ("voice over IP," or voIP);
  • Operating systems; and
  • Security systems, such as firewall technology, secure transmission systems, and antivirus software.

Indicators related to staff and student use of software, and training in the use of software, may be found in Chapter 6, Professional Development, and Chapter 7, Technology Integration. Indicators and data elements related to software budgeting, funding, and expenditures may be found in Chapter 2, Finance.


Key Questions and Indicators

Four of the five key questions for this chapter address a single issue: Are software and applications systems appropriately addressing important school management and instructional functions?

The first two questions deal with teaching and learning standards and basic technology tool skills; the next one addresses the use of (primarily computer-based) technology in support of communications. The fourth question deals with technology-based support of key administrative functions.

The fifth question addresses a different issue entirely: the existence of a process to assess software and applications. Software and applications, ideally, have a life cycle: specifically, there is a point in their installed life at which they need to be upgraded or replaced. Making this process systematic, or at least transparent to the community, is important for the intelligent use of technology. At this point, the only indicators suggested for this question deal with the existence of an evaluation process and the ratings categories used in performing the evaluation.


Do the school or district's instructional applications support teaching and learning standards across the curriculum?

This key question relates to software packages or applications (for instance, web-based applications) that directly support teaching and learning. Software packages such as those that support the teaching of reading or writing, or those that relate to specific mathematics or science skills and knowledge, are currently the ones most likely to have external ratings. There are commercial enterprises that rate software in terms of alignment with state and national standards (see sidebar "Commercial Sites Rating Software Alignment to Standards" on the facing page). It is also clearly possible for state or district groups to rate software packages in terms of their alignment with teaching and learning standards.

Usage TipIf you are in the process of developing or purchasing a database or information management system for tracking technology in your school or district, and are not sure what entries should be included, you may sample the unit record lists of data elements in each chapter to decide what will best support the critical decisions you must make.


Alignment with teaching and learning standards Existence and current status of software alignment plan (most likely at district or state level; may be for all subjects or for a specific curriculum area or grade).
Alignment rating (for each application).
Alignment measure (for each standard).
Percentage of applications aligned to teaching and learning standards.
Approved instructional applications in regular use Number of approved instructional applications in regular use,by subject area, grade, and type.
Number of approved teacher-support instructional applications in regular use, by type.


Existence and current status of software/applications alignment plan: 0=no alignment plan exists; 1=an alignment plan is being developed; 2=an alignment plan has been approved; 3=an alignment plan is approved and is being implemented.

Alignment rating (for a single software/applications package; may be for alignment with standards for all subjects, or for a specific curriculum area or grade): 0=no alignment to standards exists for this application; 1=a weak alignment to standards exists for this application; 2=this application is somewhat aligned to standards; 3=a strong alignment to standards exists for this application; 4=this application is fully aligned to standards. [Note: judgment about relative strength of alignment to standards might be in terms of the extent of fit between software goals and one or more standards, or in terms of the number of standards addressed by a software package or application, or even in terms of the credibility of the rating organization.]

Alignment measure (for a single teaching and learning standard; may be for all subjects, or for a specific curriculum area or grade): 0=none of the applications in use in the school/district have been rated as fully aligned to a learning standard; 1=one application has been rated as fully aligned to a learning standard; 2=more than one application has been rated as fully aligned to a learning standard.

Percentage of instructional applications aligned with one or more learning standards: Number of applications with ratings of 3 or 4 (see "Alignment rating," above) divided by the total number of instructional applications and converted to a percentage. May be for alignment with standards for all subjects, or for a specific curriculum area or grade.

Instructional application types: Instructional process support (see also "Teacher-support instructional applications," immediately below); learning support (practice drills; problem solving; data analysis; simulation/demonstration; research; distance learning); assessment.

Teacher-support instructional applications: Software or applications specifically designed to support teachers in instructional processes. Examples include attendance software; grading applications; testing systems; student work or portfolio systems; lesson planning software.


Is there software support for technology tool skill development?


Application support for technology tool skill development Count of applications, by type, in use in instructional settings in the school or district that support technology tool skill development.


Examples of application types that support technology tool skill development in instructional settings: word processors; spreadsheets; database software; desktop publishing; process writing software; keyboarding training software; telecommunications; web browsers and search engines; web authoring; presentation development software; programming tools, including compilers and interpreters.

As applications and devices in use in classrooms continue to evolve, and as technology becomes further integrated into education, what are considered "basic tool skills" can be expected to evolve. Five years from now, the above list will be quite different from what it is now, even if it is not much longer.


Does the school/district use technology applications to improve communication?

There are a number of important communication functions that schools and districts carry out which technology can enable or improve. Communication between school staff and parents of students can be supported through class homework assignment web pages or telephone hotlines. E-mail can support direct parent communication with teachers or the principal. Communication with the larger community is enabled by school web pages or online school "report cards"; the latter often become part of real estate agencies' electronic brochures for the community.

Schools use computer-based networks to conduct significant business with their districts, other institutions, and with state authorities. Data are sent to state education agencies; requests for purchases go back and forth from schools to central districts. Staff attendance records are forwarded to district payroll systems. Transcripts are sent to other schools or districts when students move, or to colleges when students graduate.

The current list of indicators below focuses on electronic mail and web use. Indicators related to telephone use could also be developed.


Applications for communication E-mail type: School or district-wide, non-Internet; Internet-based; none.
E-mail: Percentage of teachers with active accounts.
E-mail: Percentage of students with active accounts.
Existence of active district/school web site.
School web site usage.
Percentage of classrooms with active web pages.
Percentage of teachers with active web pages.
Use of Internet telephony ("voice over IP," or voIP) in the school or district.


Active account (electronic mail): At least one message sent in the current academic year.

Active web site/page: At least one update in the past 90 days.

School/district web site usage: Count of user sessions in a month, converted to a daily average.


Does the school/district have appropriate software and systems to support primary administrative functions?

Although most of the public and policy focus on computing in schools addresses instructional uses, large gains in efficiency and effectiveness in schools can be made by using computers and network systems in administrative applications. Although such applications are decidedly less glamorous and less likely to be visible or appear reasonable to anxious parents worried about their children's future, they can play a critical role in making food services, transportation or records management work better and in reducing the management burden on senior administrators so they can maintain their focus on students' education.

Administrative software is also essential to the gathering, processing, and transmission of critical education data. Applications at the district level can be integrated into decision support tools.

Strategic partnerships between schools and private corporations have resulted in technology forums, initiatives, and criteria to assist superintendents in choosing models to follow.


Applications for core administrative activities Availability of applications to support core administrative activities, by type.
Applications for decision support Decision support tools are available to administrators.
Decision support tools are available to teachers and curriculum groups.
Decision support tools are available to parents and the public.
Availability of decision support tools, by information category.
Applications for policy support Availability of applications that support school/district Security and Use Policies.
Applications in regular use that support the school/district Security and Acceptable Use Policies, by application type


Software/application types to support core administrative activities: Capital improvements (building and grounds); financial (accounting, budgeting, payroll, human resources); food services; inventory control; library services (cataloguing, circulation); network security (firewall, filtering, secure data transmission, Acceptable Use Policy enforcement); office applications; student materials (purchasing, inventory); student records management (attendance, assessment, grading); teacher records management (attendance, assessment, certification); transportation; other software and applications.


Are the applications in use evaluated for effectiveness?

Standards for educational technology applications are being developed, with the potential to be used for assessment of instructional software and applications. There are already many databases available that offer thousands of reviews of educational technology, including instructional software (see the Resources section at the end of this chapter). Technical coordinators and other evaluators will have to develop criteria to evaluate the effectiveness of products beyond "best-of-breed" determinations.

The situation is more problematic for evaluation of administrative software and applications. Standards for such applications do not exist or at least represent an entirely different framework. Schools and districts need to evaluate administrative software in terms of functional effectiveness (i.e., do they accomplish the goals they are intended to accomplish?). Review databases may be helpful in this context.


Software evaluation Existence of software evaluation plan.
Evaluation ratings by software category.

School districts have evaluation procedures in place that may include reviewing the content of software and web sites for alignment with state or local learning standards (see the sidebar "Evaluating Web-Based Products and Standards" on the next page), accuracy, grade and ability levels, special student needs, teacher training requirements, and more. Others take advantage of services such as EvaluTech ( or states such as Florida ( and California (, which have developed extensive evaluation web sites to assist educators in selecting high-quality electronic learning resources.


Unit Record Structure

Although information about technology applications is typically analyzed at the school or district level, the relevant unit for data element definitions is the software program or application. Unit records for software form the basic elements for a comprehensive technology application database.

A system based on unit records would meet day-to-day administrative needs and support overall assessment and planning. As noted in other chapters, these suggested records are not intended to define data collection. Instead, they illustrate basic units of a data system from which data elements and indicators can be extracted to answer important policy and planning questions.

The data elements listed below, along with others defining basic school components such as classrooms and adapted from other NCES handbooks, can be used to create the indicators listed in this chapter. The complete list of data elements for this guide can be found in Appendix A; a number of detailed examples illustrating the creation of indicators from data elements can be found in Appendix B.


For each software or application listing:

General information:

  • Title and ID code
  • Name of creator company
  • Name of vendor
  • Vendor address
  • Vendor contact number
  • Installed version number
  • Latest version available
  • Number of licenses purchased or maximum number of concurrent users
  • Date of license expiration/renewal
  • Date purchased
  • Date technical support expires
  • Technical support entity
  • Technical support entity address
  • Technical support contact number
  • Evaluation rating

For instructional and instructional support software:

Descriptive information about educational function, if applicable:

  • Specific curriculum area(s) [list areas]
  • Specific grade level(s) [list levels]
  • Alignment with standards: alignment rating
  • Instructional application type, if applicable
  • Tool skill development category, if applicable
  • Teacher-support instructional application type, if applicable

For administrative software:

  • Administrative activity category

For each machine or workstation:

  • Software/application title(s) and ID
  • Date installed
  • Date of most recent upgrade
  • History of use and problems

Records kept and aggregated at building or district level.

[There also exists a database of all instructional machines in use (see unit records for Chapter 3), in which there will be a record of all software and applications installed.]


Sidebar Topics

"Mission-Critical Applications for Schools"

Computer-based technologies are in the process of becoming critical to achieving schools' mission. Areas in which applications may be considered mission-critical at present include:

  • finance, including payroll, accounting, and budgeting;
  • operations and planning, especially transportation management; and
  • instructional management, including attendance and grading.

Other functions are equally important to schools, but carrying them out on computers is still not widespread enough to be considered "critical." These include instructional support; special education support (including both expanded accessibility for instructional resources and integrated education plan management); electronic mail; and communication with parents and community, especially via the web.


The story of Jane Neussup continues…


John is assisting Dr. Neussup's secretary, Martha, with a survey question that asks: "What state learning standards in grades 4 through 6 in reading and math are addressed using instructional software?"

John offers some advice. "Martha, remember that several of our elementary school principals reviewed our instructional software inventory last summer? They mapped the various packages we use to the state learning standards and found a 79% match between the software and support for standards. I think you can find the results of that work under 'Instructional Resources' on our web site."

Martha replies, "Thanks, John, I'll look there... just as soon as the network comes back up."

John flinches. This is not what he wants to hear right then. Retreating to his role as chief techie, he rushes back to the computer center to investigate the problem.

[To be continued...]


"Commercial Sites Rating Software Alignment to Standards: An Example"

Cambridge Development Laboratories has developed Edumatch, a web site designed to allow administrators to determine whether the software they are interested in complies with their state curriculum standards. The site's proprietary search engine allows educators to describe the software they want and Edumatch finds it for them. Users can see precisely which standards, down to the substrand level, are addressed by every piece of software they've purchased and how every piece of software fits into each school's needs, by subject and grade level. See


"One School's Way"

Raymond Yeagley explains his district's experience in choosing software applications in this ex-cerpt from "Data in Your Hands," in The School Administrator, April 2001. Yeagley is superintendent of the Rochester School Department in Rochester, New Hampshire.

Administrative software packages used by most schools store student profiles, grades, attendance and discipline records. Testing companies can provide electronic versions of their scoring reports that include student-specific information. Additionally, scanners permit districts to automate tabulation of surveys and other local data collections. Availability and compatibility of data are no longer a barrier.

A greater challenge than collecting data is creating a process to transform the data into easily accessible, useful information that staff members will employ for school improvement. Building on a goal-setting and accountability process already in place in our district, we identified four principles to guide our efforts in Rochester (emphasis added):

  • Instructional change is the first priority. Data will be used to identify district, school and classroom strengths and weaknesses, then find ways to reinforce the strengths and address the weaknesses to improve student learning.
  • Staff training is essential for effective data use. Staff members must understand not only how to interpret the information accurately, but also how to identify, adapt and apply more effective instructional strategies based on their analysis.
  • Communicating results is a vital component. Communicating a complete, accurate and understandable picture of our district's performance to all of our constituents will improve community support and encourage school effectiveness.
  • Inviting feedback closes the loop. Obtaining feedback from constituents is as im-portant in assessing district and school progress as measuring student achievement. In addition to the tradi-tional performance indicators, the district can benefit from obtaining and analyzing data on community satisfaction and all other aspects of operation.

Reprinted with permission from the April 2001 issue of The School Administrator, Copyright © 2001. American Association of School Administrators. All Rights Reserved.


"Evaluating Web-Based Products and Standards"

The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) has formed a Standards Development Board to address a broad range of areas in which consumers, in this case, educators, can judge web-based products and services. Here are eight areas of consideration in their Standards for Web-Based Education Products and Services, Guidelines for K-12 Educators:

  • Content Quality
  • Correlation to Standards
  • Educational Support
  • Effectiveness
  • Equity
  • Privacy/Safety
  • Technology Support
  • User Friendliness

(For a complete description of these standards, please see



American Association of School Administrators. (2001). Standards for Web-Based Education Products and Services, Guidelines for K–12 Educators. See

Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. (2001). "Teachers and Technology," Curriculum Update. See archives at

Education Week. (1999). "Is the Software Right for You?" Special Report: Technology Counts. See

Yeagley, R. (April 2001). "Data in Your Hands," The School Administrator. American Association of School Administrators. See

For evaluation

Cambridge Development Lab's educational software curriculum matching program. See

EvaluTech's searchable database contains more than 7,000 reviews of instructional materials recommended for classroom use in kindergarten through grade 12. See

The Florida Department of Education's Bureau of Educational Technology surveys every school and district office for nominations of up to 10 software titles every year. See

The California Learning Resource Network provides supplemental electronic learning resources that both meet local instructional needs and embody the implementation of California curriculum frameworks and standards. See

Other in-depth resources

The Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) is an industry initiative to develop an open specification for ensuring that K–12 instructional and administrative software applications work together more effectively. SIF is not a product, but rather an industry-supported technical blueprint for K–12 software that will enable diverse applications to interact and share data seamlessly, now and in the future. See