Wondering how your students’ computer skills compare with those across the country? The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) recently published a set of technology standards for K-12 students that might help you out.

ISTE’s standards are intended to be a framework for fusing technology into the states’ standards of learning. With ISTE’s influence behind them, observers say, the standards might well speed technology toward a point of critical mass in our schools.

ISTE released its student technology standards June 22 at the National Educational Computing Conference. ISTE is a nonprofit organization of 44,000 teachers, technology coordinators, administrators, and teacher educators. Its mission is to promote the effective use of technology to improve teaching and learning.

Lajeane Thomas, chair of the standards development team and a professor at Louisiana Tech University, said a national technology framework is important because it provides some consistency across geographic areas.

“In a mobile society, it’s important that when students move from place to place they’re getting the same educational opportunities,” Thomas said. This is especially important with technology, she said, because there can be great disparities in resources and in the use of technology from one school district to the next.

The standards soon might carry impact. Software publishers, textbook developers, and state technology planners will be looking at them closely when developing their curricula in the months ahead, Thomas said.

The NETS Project

ISTE’s standards are phase one of a four-phase project called the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) Project. NETS is funded by the Milken Exchange on Education Technology, Apple Computer, and NASA in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Education.

A 28-member team spent the past three years developing the standards with help from educators around the world. The development team includes representatives from ISTE, the American Association of School Librarians, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, National School Boards Association, Software Publishers Association, and several universities.

Called Technology Foundation Standards for Students, the standards describe what students should know about technology and what they should be able to do with it before graduating.

The skills necessary to define technology proficiency are outlined across six categories: basic operations and concepts; social, ethical, and human issues of technology use; productivity tools; communication tools; research tools; and problem-solving and decision-making tools.

Under “research tools,” for example, you would find, “Students use technology to locate, evaluate, and collect information from a variety of sources”–that is, using the internet to do research.

Thomas said the standards must be broad enough to encompass varying levels of technology among districts and flexible enough to be adapted to new forms of technology and to individual state standards.

There’s a strong correlation between the technology standards developed by ISTE and other educational reform ideas. Collaborative, student-centered work in a real-world context characterizes each. That’s no coincidence, Thomas said.

“They may not be what you expect technology standards to look like, because they’re really learning standards,” she said. “The types of things we want students to be able to do with technology are the types of things we want them to do in all phases of learning.”

The standards offer performance indicators at each of four levels: grades pre-K to 2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. Indicators for grades pre-K to 2 include using input devices such as a mouse or keyboard to operate a computer successfully; those for grades 9-12 include applying expert systems and simulations in real-world situations.

With each set of indicators, ISTE includes “profiles of technology literacy”–examples of how students could demonstrate the skills in a classroom setting. A high school history class might use a spreadsheet to understand how the electoral college works, for example, by manipulating data to change the outcome of the 1960 presidential election.

Assessing its impact

At least a dozen states already incorporate technology into their standards for graduation: Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Texas.

Thomas hopes the standards developed through the NETS project will help other states fuse technology into their own curriculum goals.

Of course, standards mean little unless the technology to implement them exists. But having national standards in place might also provide the political pressure necessary to make technology resources available to all students equally, Thomas said.

The next goal of NETS is to establish standards for using technology in teaching and learning, which would provide a framework for how technology should be used throughout the curriculum. In this second phase, ISTE would provide more detailed profiles of teachers and students effectively using technology in the classroom.

Thomas said the development team hopes to have these, along with grade-by-grade indicators for student performance standards, finished by Jan. 1, 1999. ISTE plans to release them at next year’s Florida Educational Technology Conference in March.

Phase three would describe access, staff development, and support services essential for technology in the classroom. The project’s final phase would describe benchmarks for assessing student progress and evaluating the use of technology in education.

International Society for Technology in Education

National Educational Technology Standards Project