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CTO certification

Accountants have the CPA exam. Lawyers must pass the Bar. I'm guessing that dentists and doctors have some sort of test. Teachers and librarians qualify for licensure. One of the marks of a professional is an objective demonstration of knowledge and proficiency in one's field of practice. While such credentials have never been a guarantee of excellence, it is comforting to see that framed diploma on the dentist's wall when she's coming at you with a big whining drill.

So I was excited to read about an effort by CoSN to certify Chief Technology Officers (CTOs). I've looked over the e-mail below about the CETL certification and even attended a session on the topic this week at our local tech conference, TIES. Unhappily, the more I dig into CETL, the more questions I have. These questions include:

  • Will any potential employer actually recognize CETL certification as a valid indicator of proficiency? (How many HR directors or superintendents even know what CoSN is or what it represents?)
  • How valid is using a multiple-guess test in determining a knowledge and skills base for this field, given its changing nature, its diversity of responsibilities, its lack of best practice research, and its dependence of success on interpersonal skills? (Full disclosure - I only scored 40% on the practice test, despite having been a tech director for 20 years.)
  • Are the costs of the test and prep materials reasonable?* The exam prep book is $350 for members/$550 for non-members; the exam cost is $400/$700; the exam re-take cost is $200 per part, per re-take; and the recertification (required every three years) cost is $150/$300. OK, for something as recognized and established as the CPA exam, I could buy this. But these prices for a new test with no track record?

I have no issues with core "competencies" of CoSN's Framework of Essential Skills. I don't have a problem with some sort of assessment of proficiency in these areas.

But for my money - both as one looking to hire and one who wants to be hired - I'd advise that your candidate CTO has a track record of accomplishments as demonstrated by a portfolio of work.

The reality is that assholes can pass tests, but rarely get much accomplished in the real world of education. I'd not expect much from someone with a few letters behind his/her name. I'd look for experience - and success.

* It's ironic that technology, through MOOCs. badges, etc., is allowing people to explore alternative means of learning and accomplishment in learning to the traditional and expensive educational processes. For a cuttin' edge organization CoSN seems to be woefully ignorant of the movement.

Have you mastered the knowledge needed to bring 21st century learning to your school district? If so, CoSN invites you to test this knowledge by sitting for CoSN’s Certified Education Technology Leader (CETL) certification exam. Those who pass this rigorous exam will hold the CETL designation, which will demonstrate to your supervisors and colleagues that you are committed to bringing leading edge technology to our nation’s schools. ...

What is the CETL Certification?
The CETL certification exam is based on the Framework of Essential Skills for K-12 CTO. Developed by professionals working in the field, the Framework is the body of knowledge that successful education technology leaders must have to bring 21st century learning environments into our nation’s schools.

How is the Exam Structured?
There are two parts to the exam:

  • Part I is a multiple-choice, two-hour exam administered through Internet-Based Testing (IBT) at a proctored test site. You will be given a pass/fail notification at the end of the exam.
  • Part II of the exam is essay based. Those who pass Part I will be sent an email with instructions for taking Part II, which may be completed on your own computer. Candidates will have seven days to submit their essays (submission instructions and the deadline will be provided in the email).

Is Certification Right for Me?
The CoSN CETL certification program is specifically designed for CTOs and those aspiring to be CTOs. Those who achieve CETL certification will:

  • Demonstrate to your colleagues, superintendents, and subordinates that you have mastered the body of knowledge needed to bring 21st century technology to K-12 school districts.
  • Show your dedication to remaining current in the education technology field through the CETL recertification requirements.
  • Work with your school district to ensure that technology is considered and implemented in all aspects of your school district’s strategic planning.

If you aspire to achieve these goals, the CETL certification is right for you.


For more information about the CETL exam, please visit the CETL Certification website.

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Reader Comments (5)

Perhaps the idea is right, the owner and the pathway need some work. What current "outside" certification is currently recognized systemically in schools? (I cannot think of any that aren't just ad-hoc).

It would seem to me, that states could take an active role in this and put it under a department of education licensing program. All thoughts about how states grant and renew certifications aside (because any a-hole can get a certification too), it could be a competency based approach.

The challenge I saw in Wisconsin, which has an administrative instructional technology coordinator license is that it had little meaning (if you had one, great, if you didn't great) and it did not take into consideration alternative pathways for people who did not come through the classroom (you must have 3-years teaching experience) to obtain it. This isolated some really good people. It would seem a competency-based approach (a sort of anti-a-hole test) might allow people to still achieve the certification.

Where is Minnesota on issues of state-wide, comprehensive and systematic educational technology leadership?

Joel VerDuin (with some initials and certifications and hopefully none of them start with "A")

December 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoel VerDuin

Sounds like it is too bad that it does not have a format more in line with NBPTS assessments. That has a nice balance of content knowledge and evidence of classroom practice.

December 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVal

UREKA! You are absolutely right Doug! I have been considering taking the certification. I am somewhat hesitant - as I have never been a good test taker (aka memorizer of facts). With 16 years of edtech experiences (some bad, many good) what if I can't pass the test? I am living the test every day and if I fail - what does that say about me? I would much rather have an ePortfolio review of accomplishments (and hell, even the failures I have learned from) as well as testimonies from the people who work WITH me. I do like the idea of an essay. But I am also the type of person that needs to take some time to really process what I write. (hence why I don't blog often). Nice mention of the "assholes". While they may be able to pass the test, they may be the most miserable people to work FOR (not with). Proof is in the putting and I think COSN should consider some ePortfolio review as well. I do realize that the $ would go up. It takes time to review these types of artifacts.

December 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen Hegna

Doug, regarding your recent Blue Skunk Blog about the new CETL certification, I wanted to clarify some of your comments. Yes, the CETL certification is new and just gaining traction in the education technology arena. And that’s to be expected. All professional certifications don’t come out of the gate well known and universally accepted. But the CETL certification (which launched less than a year ago) is gaining traction in the field and has many enthusiastic supporters.

While you and many of your colleagues have been in the ed tech field for quite a while, the importance of having an ed tech professional sitting in the Superintendent's Cabinet and helping to create a vision and strategy for incorporating technology into all aspects of the school environment is still woefully behind the times compared to what’s happening in the corporate sector.

And this is part of what the CETL designation aims to identify: those in the ed tech field who have the experience and knowledge to bring existing and emerging education technology to our nation’s schools.

CoSN launched this program at the urging of our members – leaders in the ed tech field – who felt that ed tech professionals needed a way to demonstrate the importance of having an ed tech strategist and visionary at the highest level of a school district’s administration. And the exam and the Framework on which the exam is based, was developed (and is updated) by ed tech leaders already sitting at that table.

A large part of the exam (40%) aims to test CTOs on their leadership and strategic skills. That is why the exam is not just multiple choice. Part I of the exam is multiple choice and tests people’s knowledge of the basics of the ed tech field. Only those who pass Part I are eligible to take Part II. Part II of the exam is designed to identify those who have the leadership skills necessary to bring cutting-edge technology to their districts. And only those who demonstrate the basic understanding of the ed tech field (Part I) and also demonstrate that they can use this knowledge to transform their school’s environment (Part II) will hold the CETL designation.

The exam is tough. To date, only 55% of the people who’ve taken it have passed both parts. And that’s important: CoSN and the members we serve want to be sure this designation only identifies the ed tech professionals who are at the pinnacle of their field and are equipped to transform the strategic vision of their district’s technology mission.

Bailey Mitchell, Chair of CoSN
Chief Technology and Information Officer
Forsyth County Schools
1120 Dahlonega Hwy
Cumming, GA 30041

December 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBailey Mitchell, Chair CoSN

Hi Bailey,

Thanks for your thoughtful response to my blog post about CETL. I don't have any problems with your objective, just using a multiple guess test to reach it. Seems rather backward when we know about more powerful means of assessing skills and knowledge.

All the best,


December 21, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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