Accountability

New Rating System Targets Media’s Education Potential

By Ian Quillen — May 24, 2011 | Corrected: February 21, 2019 4 min read

Corrected: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Linda Burch’s professional title. She is Common Sense Media’s chief education and strategy officer.

A nonprofit group aimed at helping educators and parents shape children’s media consumption will move beyond rating movies, video games, and websites for appropriateness and begin evaluating those same media offerings’ educational potential.

San Francisco-based Common Sense Media, a frequent adviser to the U.S. Department of Education on matters of media and digital literacy, announced the launch of its new education ratings and review program last week. The program will be financed through a partnership with the Susan Crown Exchange, a Chicago-based philanthropy founded by its namesake that is focused on finding “innovative ways of driving social change,” according to its website.

Liz Perle, the editor-in-chief of Common Sense Media, said the aim is to eventually give parents, teachers, and students the ability to select a skill they wish to learn and be driven to a list of resources that provide opportunities for learning that skill. In a perfect world, she said, the initiative could spark producers of commercial media for children—websites, videos, or games—to scaffold more educational value into their products.

“It will put pressure on media creators to create better and better media that help kids build skills more and more,” said Ms. Perle, who acknowledged that the project is still several months from its first iteration, which will come toward the end of this year. “Whenever you make somebody accountable, most of these people want to live up to it. Most people want to help kids learn more. It’s in their best interest if they’ve got a game kids can learn from and also enjoy playing.”

But others—particularly those in the digital-gaming industry—question the methods Common Sense Media has used to rate content for appropriateness, its capacity to produce enough volume of reviews to affect media industries, and its relative lack of expertise in identifying educational elements.

Although Common Sense Media distributes a free digital-literacy curriculum for students in grades 4-8, and in its new venture will work from criteria created from “in-depth discussions” with more than 20 experts across disciplines ranging from education theory to video-game making, Susan Crown said the service would be focused toward highlighting educational potential rather than guaranteeing results. (“New Elementary Digital Literacy Curriculum Out,” November 23, 2010.)

“We’re not attempting to rate learning content. We’re trying to rate learning opportunities,” said Ms. Crown, who is also an officer with the Chicago investment firm Henry Crown and Co. “You can’t just say your kid’s going to be a genius if you play this game, but you can say this is an extremely good game for problem-solving.”

Ms. Crown called her philanthropy’s contribution to the effort a “large, multiyear grant,” but would not elaborate on its price tag.

Ms. Perle added that, when looking at which videos, games, and sites to evaluate first, the media group will operate on the “80-20 rule,” meaning that it will focus first on the 20 percent of the products that it says make up 80 percent of the market. The same rule, she said, has driven other Common Sense Media endeavors.

Understanding the Criteria

Common Sense Media’s current reviews include written descriptions as well as ratings on a scale of zero to 5 for an assortment of elements that include “the good stuff,” like ease of play for games or thematic messages for movies, and “the bad stuff,” such as violent, sexual, or commercial content. Each reviewed product is then given a minimum age-appropriateness level. And all of the reviews are available for free.

While outside observers note that Common Sense Media’s analysis is perhaps more balanced and descriptive than that of other media watchdog groups, they also express concern that users have little information to discern the exact criteria used to arrive at those ratings. And they say determining the educational potential of media, particularly games, and particularly in the classroom instead of at home, is a far more difficult process.

Further, Richard N. Van Eck, an associate professor and graduate director of instructional design and technology at the University of North Dakota, in Grand Forks, doubts game makers would pay much attention to the rating system unless it were found to significantly affect sales. And other than with games designed expressly for educational purposes, he said, it’s possible game makers may actually fear that a positive rating would negatively affect the business image, because educational gaming has the reputation for being boring.

“They kind of have a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy with this,” Mr. Van Eck said. “They say, ‘If you want to use us in an educational setting, great, but don’t call us an educational game.’ ”

Ms. Crown said she understands the experimental and uncertain nature of the project, but stressed that both she and Common Sense Media Chief Education and Strategy Officer Linda Burch see the importance of at least establishing a framework that can evolve and be refined over time.

“It’s not going to be absolutely right, but we’ve got to put something down on paper and get it started,” Ms. Crown said. “Is it realistic? Who knows? I hope it’s useful enough to parents and helps us bring up the quality level, or at least lets us know what the quality level is.”

Mr. Van Eck conceded that Common Sense Media’s mainstream appeal could provide a boost to the educational use of commercial media, since other groups that review media for educational content are better known by industry insiders than by parents and teachers.

A version of this article appeared in the May 25, 2011 edition of Education Week as Ed. Potential of Digital Content to Be Rated

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Addressing Learning Loss: What Schools Need to Accelerate Reading Instruction in K-3
When K-3 students return to classrooms this fall, there will be huge gaps in foundational reading skills. Does your school or district need a plan to address learning loss and accelerate student growth? In this
Content provided by PDX Reading
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy to Advance Educational Equity
Schools are welcoming students back into buildings for full-time in-person instruction in a few short weeks and now is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and systems to build
Content provided by PowerMyLearning
Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Accountability The Feds Offered Waivers on ESSA Accountability. Here's Where States Stand on Getting Them
While they get less attention than testing waivers, flexibility related to low-performing schools is an important federal and state issue.
5 min read
Image of a student taking a test with a mask on.
Rich Vintage/E+
Accountability Opinion Absenteeism Is the Wrong Student Engagement Metric to Use Right Now
In a post-pandemic era for school accountability, let’s focus on measuring what matters.
Sara Johnson, Annette Anderson & Ruth R. Faden
4 min read
Figure being erased.
Getty
Accountability Biden Education Team Squashes States' Push to Nix All Tests but Approves Other Flexibility
The department has telegraphed its decision to deny states' requests to cancel federally mandated tests for weeks.
3 min read
A first-grader learns keyboarding skills at Bayview Elementary School in San Pablo, Calif on March 12, 2015. Schools around the country are teaching students as young as 6 years old, basic typing and other keyboarding skills. The Common Core education standards adopted by a majority of states call for students to be able to use technology to research, write and give oral presentations, but the imperative for educators arrived with the introduction of standardized tests that are taken on computers instead of with paper and pencils.
The U.S. Department of Education denied some states' requests to cancel standardized tests this year. Others are seeking flexibility from some testing requirements, rather than skipping the assessments altogether.
Eric Risberg/AP
Accountability Explainer Will There Be Standardized Tests This Year? 8 Questions Answered
Educators want to know: Will the exams happen? If so, what will they look like, and how will the results be used?
12 min read
Students testing.
Getty