Digital content and access is essential to 21st century skill-building, educators say.

Access to digital content is essential to building 21st-century skills, district leaders say.

As school district leaders increasingly incorporate so-called 21st-century skills into their instructional strategies, many believe the federal government should support the development of new school assessment models that effectively measure those skills, a new survey suggests.

Thirty-five percent of respondents in the survey, conducted by the National School Boards Association, listed “assessing 21st-century skills” as the top educational technology priority that Congress and the Obama administration should address. NSBA released the results of its survey during the organization’s annual educational technology conference in Phoenix.

More than 43 percent of survey respondents said their district already has created new school assessment measures to incorporate such skills as problem solving, teamwork, and critical thinking.

But with the federal and state governments playing such a large role in school assessment, standardized testing, and accountability, lawmakers need to be involved in finding solutions, respondents said.

“One of the most positive results we are seeing is the widespread use of [educational] technology tools to support collaboration and problem-based learning,” said Anne L. Bryant, NSBA’s executive director. “But [school] assessment models need to change to reflect these higher-level 21st-century skills.”

The survey also found that school leaders are taking school safety and cyber bullying seriously, with nearly 57 percent noting that their districts have created specific policies to prevent online threats and harassment.

An additional 34 percent said such conduct already is covered under existing anti-bullying and school safety policies. Educators say they are using staff development, student awareness campaigns, and parent education programs to address cyber bullying.

Many educators appear ready to cut their ties with the traditional print textbooks in a move to more digital content if equity concerns about student access to devices can be resolved.  Thirty-five percent of survey respondents said textbooks are still necessary because not all students have access to digital content devices, while an equal number (35 percent) believe the money could be better spent on other instructional resources. Twenty-four percent believe textbooks could be eliminated because students find them boring and prefer digital content and electronic resources. Only 7 percent said they felt the texts are necessary because educators do not have the time or skills to create their own digital content or materials.

In spite of school district leaders’ willingness to embrace digital content,  the survey found a continued need for professional development to help teachers better use educational technology in their classrooms. More than 47 percent of respondents identified “helping teachers effectively use technology” as the single biggest educational technology challenge facing their district.

Other key findings from the NSBA survey include:

•  More than 70 percent of respondents rank the federal e-Rate program as either “very important” or “somewhat important” in helping their district reach its educational technology goals.

•  Nearly 96 percent say the use of educational technology has increased learning opportunities for students in their district.

•  Ninety-three percent say educational technology has made students more engaged in learning.

•  More than 60 percent say educational technology has improved opportunities for students in special education classes, while 50 percent say it has increased learning for English language learners.

•  A growing number of districts (37 percent) have launched one-to-one computing initiatives, and 35 percent of respondents said netbooks likely will be the device purchased in the greatest volume to implement those programs. Traditional laptops (28 percent) and the recently released iPad (16 percent) also are popular options. Only 22 percent said they are leveraging students’ personal devices by allowing them to access the school network, a trend that is likely to increase in the years to come.

•  Thirty percent of districts responding have an official Facebook page as a communication/outreach tool, while nearly that many, 26 percent, use Twitter.