ESSA Plans: How Are States Improving Technology in the Classroom?

Our CDE researchers are tracking ESSA trends — see if they line up with what you are seeing.

by Taylor Foreman / March 13, 2018

Here at the Center for Digital Education, many IT vendors have expressed interest in understanding the prospective technology procurement activities summarized in the recently published ESSA plans.

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans are intended to serve as detailed blueprints for states to remain transparent in their education initiatives. They include discussions of self-selected accountability measures, state-specific education standards and prospective plans for information technology procurement.

Researchers at the Center for Digital Education have been tracking ESSA plans throughout their approval process and recently read through a sample of 20 ESSA plans. These plans provided a representative sample to help us understand prospective changes and trends fueled by ESSA. Specifically, we examined these plans for emerging trends around technology in education, plans for procurement and any indicators for how Title IV dollars will be spent.

Technology Trends

In analyzing these plans we found three noteworthy technology-related trends.

First, there is interest in building up STEM/STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) learning tools and resources for students. Second, schools recognize that in some instances they lack teaching capacity — teachers trained to teach with technology in the classroom. Third, there is a growing awareness that data management is an area that needs investment.

With the increasing demand for careers and knowledge in STEM areas, states are taking a more innovative approach to preparing their students with the necessary skills to compete in today’s workforce. Whether through professional development for educators, improving student data systems or procuring digital classroom resources, states are collectively working to improve their student learning outcomes, as can be seen in the ESSA plans reviewed here.

Upcoming Plans for Technology Investment

The number one area for technology investment is funding of professional development for school educators. Of the 20 ESSA plans we examined, 18 mentioned a need to help educators learn how to use technology more effectively. The most frequently cited driver for more effective teaching with technology is the concern that students have equitable access to STEM/STEAM experiences in preparation for college and career. As states implement new technologies and digital curriculum, they are recognizing that student success relies on a teacher’s understanding of how to effectively use those digital resources in the classroom. Delivery mechanisms for this training include online platforms with learning resources for educators such as webinars, learning programs and online courses.

A number of other plans were mentioned for technology investment, fueled by ESSA. In an effort to measure success rates, nearly all of the state plans we reviewed mentioned efforts to implement dashboards to track student and educator data. The state of Illinois, for example, indicated that it is currently developing a dashboard as part of the Illinois Report Card, which will provide color-coded data visualizations of student-level data, such as achievement scores and English Language proficiency.

More than half of the plans from our sample also mentioned technology improvements surrounding their state’s use of the Migrant Student Information Exchange (MSIX), a multistate information system that verifies and documents eligible migratory students. Several states have implemented their own migrant student information systems or have plans to contract an entity to carry out MSIX state-level responsibilities and training on their system. In 2017, Oregon used Title I, Part C funds to update its Oregon Migrant Student Information System (OMSIS) to meet new MSIX data requirements.

A couple other common mentions of upcoming technology procurement within the plans include classroom devices and digital curriculum.

How Will Title IV Dollars Be Spent in the Coming Year?

In our analysis, Title IV, Part A and B funding seems to be largely dedicated to increasing digital tools and curriculum — contributing to the overall goal of improving digital literacy among educators and students.

Title IV, Part A (Supporting Effective Instruction): Over half of the state plans reviewed mentioned dedicating Title IV, Part A funds to ensuring “well-rounded” educational opportunities and effective use of technology. These states are planning to procure personalized learning and assistive technologies, professional development resources, and online curriculum under this title. There is a focus on improving STEM/STEAM education, and states are working to build up curriculum and educator training in these areas. Pennsylvania has big plans for ensuring educators and students become “STEM fluent,” as the state has conducted more than 30 STEM stakeholder sessions over the past 18 months and plans to use Title IV, Part A funds to improve STEM education and access to 21st century technology tools.

Title IV, Part B (21st Century Community Learning Centers (21CCLC)): Virtually all of the states from our sample are using 21CCLC funding to provide technology education programs for students and their families, particularly those from low-income areas and low-performing schools. For instance, California plans to contract outside organizations to provide after school Expanded Learning Programs (ELPs), including STEM-based educational programs. Similarly, Florida plans to use a portion of 21CCLC funds to establish a peer review process for its program by contracting an external agency to develop a Web-based application system.

What do you think of these trends? Do they line up with your state? Share your thoughts with CDE at or @centerdigitaled.

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