State and District Leadership Discuss Digital Learning Opportunities

Print vs. digital elements in Idaho


SETDA’s latest research, Navigating the Digital Shift 2018: Broadening Student Learning Opportunities, highlights how state policies are supporting the transformation to digital learning. Many states provide guidance for the implementation of digital materials in districts to help ensure that they are available to all learners. However, some districts may not have any state guidance at all. In a recent edWebinar, presenters from Idaho and Pennsylvania discussed how state and district leadership support digital learning opportunities and implement digital materials.

According to the Brookings Institution there is strong evidence that the choice of instructional materials has large effects on student learning. Of course, schools can’t make the switch to digital overnight. There are essential conditions for digital learning like state leadership, equity of access, accessibility for all students, interoperability considerations, and student data and privacy. While many states have local control and the final decision is left to the schools and districts, it’s important that states provide some leadership around selection, curation, procurement and funding in order to support districts, said Christine Fox, Deputy Executive Director for SETDA.

Elizabeth James, Curricular Materials Coordinator from the Idaho State Department of Education, explained that while Idaho does provide a curricular review process as a service, Idaho is a local control state so districts are not mandated to choose resources that have gone through the process. They have a continuous review and evaluation of curricular materials on a six-year rotation schedule. However, this can cause issues with staying current with digital materials, James explained. Contracts with publishing companies ensure equal availability and pricing for Idaho’s large population of rural schools.

Curricular elements in Idaho


As part of the review process, materials are first screened for alignment to the state’s content standards, pedagogical design, accessibility, fair representation, and more. The review process is divided into two parts, beginning with a remote review in which a review team familiarizes themselves with the materials and performs an independent evaluation. Then, partners come together in a consensus review to compare findings and provide one final recommendation. The recommendations are finalized by the state board of education. After this, the districts can choose resources to best fit their needs, which don’t need to be on the state list.

Idaho is working on solutions like updating their six-year rotation schedule in order to stay more up to date with digital materials, and working with their technology services team to ensure access in rural buildings and make upgrades to hardware. Districts are also rising to the challenge of digital material implementation. For example, Snake River School district has purchased 10 WiFi hotspots for students to check out and take home; Rolling Hills Charter has a strong 1:1 program for grades five through seven, and is adding more grade levels; and the Pocatello and Chubbuck districts are using technology training specialists to assist school-level instructional technology coaches with ongoing training.

Pennsylvania on the other hand does not have a review process, but Elizabeth Forward School District in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania has transformed into a digital learning environment. They are now in their fifth year of 1:1 with iPads for grades K-12, and have designed learning environments to create student engagement. They are using digital materials to engage and support instruction by implementing initiatives such as the learning management system, eBackpack, and moving to online and digital materials as a standard practice.

The district’s resource selection and purchasing is almost instantaneous as opposed to the curriculum cycle in the past. Now, students always have access to current materials. The use of digital resources has changed the way students learn and the way teachers teach. “One of the things that I will tell any educational leader (is) that if you look around your schools and you don’t really come out of that idea that schools can’t change or they shouldn’t change, you need to…,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bart Rocco. Students can now have an entire library in their backpack, and this changes the dynamic for schools and students.

This broadcast was hosted by, SETDA, and Future Ready Schools, and sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Watch the Recording

This article was modified and published by EdScoop.

About the Presenters
Elizabeth James is currently serving as the curricular materials coordinator at the Idaho State Department of Education. Previously, Elizabeth worked as an elementary teacher in Nevada and a residential counselor in Montana. She graduated with a master’s degree from the University of Nevada Las Vegas in curriculum and instruction, technology integration. She loves living in Boise, Idaho and takes full advantage of the amazing outdoor adventures it provides.

Dr. Bart Rocco has worked in public education for 35 years as a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent, and for the last nine years has served as the superintendent of the Elizabeth Forward School District in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania. Under Dr. Rocco’s leadership, the school district has undertaken numerous learning initiatives. He has worked to establish partnerships with local universities, such as Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, and California University of Pennsylvania.

The district has been recognized as a Digital Promise School District from the League of Innovative Schools, and has received an Apple Distinguished Program Award. The district is also a Digital Citizenship Certified District. Dr. Rocco was awarded the K-12 Alumni Award from the University of Pittsburgh in 2018; the 2018 Leadership Award from the Consortium for Public Education; and the Distinguished Educator Award from the Tri-State Study Council and the University of Pittsburgh. He was also the recipient of the 2014 Outstanding Educator Award from the Elizabeth Forward Alumni Association. Dr. Rocco received his B.A. and M.Ed. from Duquesne University and earned his Ed.D. from the University of Pittsburgh.

About the Host

Christine Fox is the deputy executive director for SETDA. As Deputy Executive Director, she collaborates with the executive director in charting strategic direction, administration, planning and financial decisions involving SETDA. She also facilitates the members’ professional learning opportunities including planning and implementing the content for SETDA’s virtual and in-person events and newsletters. In addition, she manages many of SETDA’s research and product development projects from conception to publication. The management of such projects includes coordinating data collection from all states, supervising consultants and staff, ensuring member input and supervising the publishing process. Recent publications and projects include Navigating the Digital Shift, Digital Instructional Materials Acquisition Policies for States, OER Case Studies: Implementation in Action, The Broadband Imperative and From Data to Information. Christine’s background includes experience in education and consulting. She has worked as an educational consultant and curriculum developer for a national whole school reform model, ESOL coordinator and 3rd grade teacher. Christine has a Masters of Science in teaching English as a second language from Florida International University and received her bachelor’s degree in English literature from Florida State University.

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Essential Elements for Digital Content is a free professional learning community that provides policy makers, school administrators and educator leaders a better understanding of policies and practices related to digital instructional materials.


setdaThe State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit membership association launched by state education agency leaders in 2001 to serve, support and represent their emerging interests and needs with respect to the use of technology for teaching, learning, and school operations. Our current work is guided by a strategic plan, Leading, Inspiring and Empowering: The 2013-16 SETDA Strategic Plan, adopted by the SETDA Board of Directors in October 2012 after extensive consultation with the membership. The SETDA mission is to build and increase the capacity of state and national leaders to improve education through technology policy and practice.


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