The U.S. Department of Education announced the creation of the Ed Tech Rapid Cycle Evaluation (RCE) Coach, which teachers can use to assess the effectiveness of the technology that they use in the classroom.

The free, open-licensed, Web-based tool uses data that teachers collect to answer questions such as: Does the education technology program lead to the desired outcomes? Should schools keep paying for the software tool they’re using? And should schools buy the software that they’re pilot testing?

“Districts and states are spending millions of dollars buying educational apps…many of which have minimal evidence supporting their effectiveness,” Katrina Stevens, deputy director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, wrote in a blog post. “Additionally, once a purchase is made, there is often no systematic process for reviewing the effectiveness of ed tech tools before renewing contracts, which collectively can run into the millions of dollars.”

There are often studies done by the ed tech companies themselves, claiming that their products are effective, but the Department of Education is aiming to build an independent evaluation tool. The Education Department is asking schools to sign up online to beta test the new tool.

The tool requires schools to do a matched comparison design, which requires them to identify similar students, teachers, and schools that aren’t using the software that they’re attempting to evaluate in order to have a control group to compare against the new data.

Schools could use the tool in different situations including when a district supports many different education technology products to assist students in a single subject. Principals can use the tool to decide which technology to adopt in their building. Also, schools could use the tool to evaluate student progress when schools begin to adopt new technology infrastructure to allow students to work on individual devices with specific apps.

The Education Department expects to add two new research methods to the tool in January that help districts begin to use new technologies that have already been chosen and assist schools that have identified key learning factors that they want to improve through a new software program.

“The new updates will expand the platform’s capabilities to include forward-looking designs that guide district- and school-level educators through the identification of apps, crafting a research question, conducting an effective pilot, and analyzing the results,” Stevens wrote.

The Education Department said that teachers will be more confident in this data because it comes directly from their classrooms.

“Educators need to make informed decisions and a resource like the RCE Coach can be a really useful tool to inform big decisions,” said Marsha Jones, former associate superintendent of Springdale (Ark.) Public Schools. “A tool like the RCE Coach can help validate and affirm that we’re making a wise investment, given the limited time and money districts have.”


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Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch is a Staff Reporter for MeriTalk covering Federal IT and K-12 Education.