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Thursday, October 14, 2010

The 7 Most Important Elements in Selecting a K-12 Curriculum Management System

{by Gail Tolbert}

School districts across the country are actively seeking web based software systems to help manage, track, search and report on their ever changing district curriculum. The review and assessment of web based curriculum management tools can be a daunting and time consuming task. When assessing curriculum management systems, school districts often say they have too many decisions to make and do not know all of the right questions to ask.

Many districts have also compared shopping for curriculum management tools to buying a car. They look for name recognition, great advertising, product branding, and even look to see what their neighbors are using. When buying a car, a casual glance tells a potential buyer the model, the color and the general features. Sometimes, however, the most important features in a car are what you can’t see and that is also true for K-12 curriculum management systems.

In an effort to simplify the process and help school districts know what to look for I have compiled a list of the 7 most important elements in selecting a K-12 Web Based Curriculum Management System. We will look at the first 4 today and I will follow up with the remaining 3 in a second post.

1. Seek Leading Edge Curriculum Technology
Leading edge technology is not just a term, it is a company goal, a mission and a behavior. In simple terms, it is how the company chooses to spend their time and resources. Leading edge technology is only acquired through years of continued research and development and represents meaningful past actions, continuous focus and a vision of future goals and trends.

Some companies choose to spend all of their time and energy in sales and marketing, but the leading edge technology company chooses to spend its time and resources on web based research development. The difference in the final product between these two types of company priorities is significant.

I have talked to many districts that have made a curriculum management purchase later to discover that their system was cumbersome, hard to learn and liked by no one, which often resulted in no one using it. Look for a system that is very intuitive and user friendly, allowing virtually anyone to learn it and use it. If you have ever heard someone say, “I don’t care how my car works, I just want to turn the key, put it in drive and go”, the same statement could also be used for curriculum management software.

2. Look Under the Hood
The primary element under the hood of leading edge technology is the amount of data it can handle; view it as the horsepower of the system. Leading edge curriculum technology collects, stores, and organizes the most robust information and the smallest detail. This data can be easily searched and organized for reports which give districts the ability to make changes and decisions on curriculum at all levels of the K-12 school district.

3. Is There Knowledge Behind the Product?

It is important to understand the knowledge and credibility of the company selling the product. Some of the K-12 curriculum sellers are not writing and designing what they sell. They are merely marketers selling someone else’s product; they are resellers, not developers. These resellers of curriculum may be limited on how much they can change, update or customize their product.

It’s important to ask a company what other software products they specialize in (such as assessment, SIS, student performance) besides curriculum management and how they manage their data. Now that you know that the data management in a curriculum system is the horsepower that drives all information, you want them to be experts in that data management and the correlation behind the data.

4. Experience with K-12 Integrated Systems

For school districts without any software tools, a curriculum management system is the right place to start, in most cases. For school districts that have already invested in curriculum systems, they often discover that additional needs and requirements emerge. Some examples of those needs include testing and assessment data, student performance data, professional development data and teacher evaluation data. Does the company have overall knowledge in all these data management areas?

As the system becomes more robust, the horsepower or data management of each system requires a correlation and connection among all the data. Each of these additional products connects together so the data can be aggregated and dissected by dashboards and analytics.

The direction that districts are heading in is clear. Data is their future and the use of the most current and assessable data allows teachers and administrators the tools they need to drill down and sort the information in a variety of ways (by grade level, building, and teacher or by standard to name a few). This information can be generated by leading edge technology developers in a “dashboard view” giving decision makers a meaningful tool to assess their curriculum quickly and concisely.

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