The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has created a handbook that suggests a standard set of questions school leaders should ask to assess whether they are using technology effectively.

The handbook, “Technology in Schools: Suggestions, Tools and Guidelines for Assessing Technology in Elementary and Secondary Education,” was released Nov. 5. It’s the result of more than three years of consensus building by the Technology in Schools Task Force, a group of state education agency managers and school district technology coordinators created by the National Forum on Education Statistics.

School leaders can use the 175-page handbook to collect and assess information on how technology is being used in their schools to help with technology planning and decision-making.

“School districts need to be able to ask questions to see if they are using technology effectively. To get the right answers, you have to ask the right questions,” said Lee Hoffman, who works with the Common Core Data at NCES.

“We hope it saves schools time, helps schools ask more [targeted] questions, and gives schools more focused data points,” said John Bailey, director of technology for the U.S. Department of Education.

Because schools answer so many surveys and data requests each year, the handbook also aims to reduce the redundancy of data collection. “If you already have records that tell you how many computers you have or how many classrooms have internet connections, you can respond to an outside survey without having to go out and do a count again,” Hoffman said.

By standardizing the questions asked and the methods that should be used to answer those questions, the authors hope to reduce the diversity among the data collected and make the data more comparable from district to district and state to state.

“Since education groups of all kinds—from policy makers at various levels, to commercial interests, to professional associations, to education managers and planners—repeatedly ask nearly the same questions, coming to agreement on standard questions and answers can help reduce redundancy and improve comparability in the questions asked and the answers provided,” the guide says.

The task force hopes technology vendors, researchers, and government agencies also will use this handbook to craft their surveys. The guide is organized into seven chapters on the following topics:

• Technology planning and policies;

• Finance;

• Equipment and infrastructure;

• Software applications;

• Maintenance and support;

• Professional development and training;

• Technology integration.

In total, the task force identified nearly three dozen key questions about technology’s use in education, as well as how such questions should be answered.

While some questions—such as “How many computers are there in this school district?”—might appear simple on the surface, they can raise all sorts of dilemmas. What is really meant by a computer? Does an old computer stored in a closet still count? What if a computer doesn’t work any longer? Are there records to show which computers were purchased, or does someone have to count how many computers there are?

Some of the key questions include:

• Is there a technology plan? Is the plan being implemented and evaluated?

• How do your district’s technology expenditures compare with other districts in your state? How much was spent in the past academic year for equipment, software, support, professional development, and connectivity?

• Is equipment present in instructional settings (classrooms)?

• Does the infrastructure have the capacity to support your technology needs?

• Are teachers and students proficient in the use of technology in the teaching and learning environment?

• Are administrators and support staff proficient in the use of technology in support of school management?

The handbook does not order schools to answer all the questions. Instead, it’s meant as a guide for policy and planning purposes, its creators say.