Baltimore County Public Schools’ Ryan Imbriale says ISTE’s Essential Conditions have transformed teaching and learning in the district.

Oct 09 2015

ISTE Standards: Districts Build Off the Essentials

Districts look to follow ISTE’s 14 critical elements as guidelines to more effectively leverage technology for learning.

As Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) implements a one-to-one initiative and moves to a digital learning environment, district leaders rely on the ISTE Essential Conditions at every step along the way.

The Essential Conditions were developed by the International Society for Technology in Education in 2002 to assist schools and districts implementing the ISTE Standards, a set of guidelines for students, teachers, administrators and others to effectively use technology for education, Program Director Carolyn Sykora says. In essence, they comprise 14 critical elements that districts should support in order to effectively integrate technology into their classrooms. “To fully implement the ISTE Standards, the Essential Conditions are pretty much soup to nuts — A to Z — the things that must be in place at the system level to be successful,” Sykora says.

The conditions include empowering leaders at every level to effect change, developing a shared vision, focusing on student-centered learning and providing consistent and adequate funding, equitable access to technology and ongoing professional development.


Percentage of Baltimore County Public Schools students who used digital tools for learning in spring 2015, a 10 percent increase from fall 2014

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins Center for Research and Reform in Education, “Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow — Year One Summative Evaluation Report,” July 2015

“The Essential Conditions have helped us tremendously as we work to transform teaching and learning in Baltimore County,” says Ryan Imbriale, BCPS’s executive director of innovative learning. “Our goal is to have every student graduate with global, 21st-century skills, and that means redesigning curriculum and redefining instruction in a blended learning environment.”

Other essentials include implementation planning, developing a curriculum framework, engaging the community and having the skilled personnel, technical support expertise and policies in place to support the initiative.

“It’s a planning guide, but it also helps districts measure their progress,” Sykora says.

Creating a Blueprint for Change

Two years ago, BCPS launched its Students & Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (STAT) initiative, which aims to personalize learning and integrate technology into the curriculum. It’s part of the district’s broader five-year strategic plan, called Blueprint 2.0, which focuses on improving academics, safety, communication and organizational effectiveness.

With STAT, the district plans to equip its 111,000 students with mobile devices, increase the use of digital learning tools to improve broadband and install Wi-Fi at every school by the 2017–2018 school year.

“The Essential Conditions are critical to the initiative,” Imbriale says. “We can’t realize the ISTE Standards if we don’t have the Essential Conditions in place.” Imbriale says each condition is equally important, working hand in hand to ensure success: “You can’t let any one of these get ahead of the others. If you don’t have your curriculum framework in place, then empowering leaders is not going to matter.”

To ensure equitable access to technology and digital resources, BCPS plans to equip every student and teacher in kindergarten through 12th grades with an HP EliteBook Revolve convertible notebook, which functions both as a notebook and a tablet.

The district has also launched the BCPS One website, a digital ecosystem where teachers can plan and deliver lessons on a learning management system, students can collaborate and access digital learning materials and parents can check their children’s academic progress.

BCPS launched the one-to-one initiative last year, providing devices to second and third graders in ten elementary schools. Those grades were also the first to get their curriculum refreshed with rich digital content, Imbriale says.

The district will expand the program to include subsequent grade levels in the near future. But, he says, the effort also depends on appropriate professional development for teachers. “Our first year was an incredible journey of transformation,” he says. “When you have alignment between curriculum, instruction and assessment, and when you’ve provided the professional learning necessary for teachers to take the next step, you begin to see unbelievable engagement in the classrooms.”

Different Approaches

Some districts adopt the Essential Conditions as part of an official policy, while others consult them as a reference guide. For example, the Indiana Area School District (IASD), which has six schools in Indiana, Pa., has embedded the conditions as part of a three-year technology plan.

“It’s at the essence of everything we do,” says Holly Rougeaux, the district’s coordinator of instructional technology.

IASD has standardized on Google Apps for Education and, to ensure equitable access, the district plans to equip every student in grades four through 12 with a Chromebook, beginning this January with high school students, Technology Coordinator Randy O’Neal says.

Rougeaux and O’Neal regularly check their progress in their efforts to support all 14 conditions. As at BCPS, the pair concentrates heavily on professional development to ensure the district’s teachers are equipped to take full advantage of the Chromebooks. “We are always looking at the 14 elements,” Rougeaux says. “We have to make sure we hit all the conditions to do an effective job.”

The conditions aren’t required as part of a formal planning process in order for districts to take full advantage of them. Barry Bachenheimer, Pascack Valley Regional High School District’s director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, consults the list when pursuing new educational initiatives for the district.

“When we have new plans rolling out, we use it as a litmus test,” he says. “We cross-check to make sure we are supporting as many of the conditions as possible.”

The district, which includes two high schools in Montvale and Hillsdale, N.J., was an early adopter of one-to-one computing. It began equipping every student with notebooks in 2003, built robust Wi-Fi networks and has since replaced many print textbooks with digital content.

This school year, the district is planning two virtual school days scheduled during teacher professional development days, when students will stay at home and engage with a learning management system through their notebooks. Such days are only possible because the district supports the Essential Conditions, Bachenheimer says.

Gary Landsman