Nearly all states with textbook adoption policies now include software, digital content, and other technology-based media in their definitions of “instructional materials,” according to a recent survey by the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA). But only a third have updated their submission or review processes to account for unique technology issues not otherwise faced with printed textbooks.
The survey’s results come almost a year after the SIIA launched a campaign to get states to update their archaic textbook adoption policies to accommodate digital resources (See “SIIA: Revise archaic textbook adoptions.”)
Mark Schneiderman, SIIA’s director of education policy, said that states are working to modernize their policies for adopting electronic instructional materials. But for Schneiderman, the survey confirmed what SIIA members already knew: that a great deal of education needs to take place at the state level when it comes to the adoption of eTexts.
“There’s a significant learning curve for states to even understand the issues involved in eText adoption,” Schneiderman said.
According to the SIIA, which is the principal trade association for the software and digital content industry, 21 states require approval for textbooks, usually on a six-year cycle: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Officials from 18 of these 21 states completed the group’s survey. Of these 18 respondents, only one–Oregon–said it doesn’t define “textbooks” to include electronic learning resources.
But the survey found that state contracts and budgeting often remain barriers to final approval of a subscription-based model for core curricular materials, as is typical with most online resources. It also found that only one-third of states that have a depository requirement provide exceptions for web-based materials, and at least eight states reported challenges with the distribution of electronic resources for reviewing.
Mark Tullis, vice president of business development for Learning.com and co-chair of SIIA’s education and workforce development policy committee, said his company has tried to navigate an arcane state adoption system that was established to work with printed textbooks since 2001.
“We noticed right away that certain things didn’t apply to us,” said Tullis. “It looked like the forms had not been updated since the 1980s. It asked questions about tapes and videodisks.”
Another problem with the adoption of state-approved materials is that reviewers often have limited experience in evaluating electronic learning resources and employing technology in the classroom.
The survey found that the majority of states don’t have any process to ensure that reviewers are tech-savvy enough to evaluate electronic materials. Only two states–California and Tennessee–ask reviewers about their computer skills, and three others–North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas–say they provide training to reviewers as needed.
“Sometimes, in submitting software [for review], you also need to provide a computer,” Schneiderman said. “That’s an indication that the reviewer doesn’t have the skills to carry out the evaluation, if the reviewer doesn’t even have access to a computer.”
Tullis of Learning.com had a blunter example.
“Once, we went through a full review process, knowing that eight out of 10 reviewers had not looked at our materials because they had not logged onto the web site,” he said.
The SIIA survey found that about half of the 18 responding states made room for digital correlations to state standards. Publishers typically are required to submit a printed correlation worksheet demonstrating which book chapter or page correlates to which state standard. But that structure often is not applicable to digital materials, which are non-linear, adaptive, and interactive.
The study also notes that many states do not rely on publishers’ correlations to state standards and, in that case, the question “becomes again whether reviewers are trained to determine alignment for electronic content.”
One of the flashpoints in the survey was whether states have provided flexibility in their policies for publishers to update or change the information in their online resources over time.
The study found that only six of the 18 responding states allow for marginal content changes and require publishers to track and present the changes to the state, though seven others surveyed are considering this possibility. In addition, just nine of the 18 respondents allow eTexts to link to other web-based resources, provided publishers ensure that all such supplemental materials are appropriate.
“The problem for the state is that they don’t want objectionable content sneaking in that doesn’t meet state standards,” Tullis said. “But how do you balance that with the value of having current information for students?”
Schneiderman added, “Everyone uses the example today of students who have textbooks that were purchased in early 2001. These don’t reflect the events of September 11. There are lots of books on our shelves, in libraries, in our homes that don’t reflect those events–but there are opportunities using electronic media to keep those materials more current in our schools.”
Another difficult issue that organizations such as SIIA and the National Association of State Textbook Administrators (NASTA) are addressing is payment schedules. Online content is often sold through a subscription or license that lasts for one year. This payment and distribution model, its proponents say, must be accommodated along with the engrained, up-front payment model of textbook purchases, which run on a six-year cycle.
The study found that 12 states have some provision to allow for a subscription or license-based model. All but one of the others were considering this possibility.
Four of the states surveyed–Louisiana, Texas, Utah, and Virginia–also allow for a staged pricing model, in which the price per student for the subscription increases over time. The idea is that such a model encourages the improvement of electronic learning resources over the six-year cycle.
“A lot of the states do technically allow for subscription or an annual payment model,” said Schneiderman. “They allow it, but in reality, they’re not set up to support it. They just allocate the funding once every six years. If districts want to spend that allotment every year, that’s fine. But that’s really challenging.”
He added, “Some states have not changed their contract language to allow the publisher to use a subscription model. There are some liabilities there on all fronts if issues were to arise, because the contracts don’t reflect a subscription model. But they’re so different, sometimes it’s like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.”
Yet another source of frustration for publishers of web-based curricular materials is negotiating state requirements that textbook vendors store their wares in a depository within the state. The idea is to grant state officials greater ease of access to curricular materials when they are needed. Clearly, such a policy does not apply to online materials, which are managed and stored electronically.
The study found that at least eight states permit alternative depositories for web-based curricular materials, three do not, and the others are considering the option. States that offer the option of an alternative depository may permit vendors to act as their own depository.
But those who deal in electronic materials want more progress.
“Some states require that even online facilities are somehow housed in a warehouse facility. They say that this is required of all materials, including online materials. You put materials on a server located within state boundaries, and that server acts as a depository,” said Tullis.
“That [practice] shows that the state doesn’t understand how this works–that the internet is the method of delivery,” he continued. “It’s an extra expense [that is] contrived and unnecessary.”
SIIA is encouraging state textbook administrators to review its survey questions and results as “an analytical tool for further internal reform.” The group says it will work with NASTA and individual states to promote further reform.
“There are a lot of states that are considering … these issues and making changes,” Schneiderman said. “Our bottom-line goal is that, if school districtd … want to adopt electronic materials, states have put in place a means for making them available.”
SIIA’s education division represents more than 150 companies that provide educational software, online courseware, computer-based assessments, and other technology tools for schools. Many also provide print-based curricular materials and assessments. The group’s education board includes representatives from Apple, Learning.com, McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education, Scholastic, and Red Hat.