Washington Builds Partnerships for Human-Centered AI in Public Schools

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Katy Payne she/her

The widespread use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is rapidly changing the classroom experience for students and teachers across Washington state. As educators find themselves at the forefront of this technological revolution, guidance and resources released by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) are designed to support the responsible and ethical adoption of AI in classrooms. 

"We already know that possibly tens of thousands of students and educators are using AI both in and out of the classroom," said State Superintendent Chris Reykdal. "We now get to put some shape and definition around this usage by embracing it with a human-centered approach." 

Fifth in the nation to release research-informed AI guidance and first to focus on a human-centered approach, OSPI’s guidance embraces a human-centered philosophy that puts the needs and abilities of students, educators, and administrators at the center of AI implementation. The second edition of the Human-Centered AI Guidance for K–12 Public Schools provides updated resources such as policy suggestions, practical implementations, terms, and FAQs.  

The current review of learning standards for English language arts (ELA), mathematics, and science will also allow for AI to be integrated throughout K–12 curriculum.  

“This comes at an interesting time when we are rewriting our learning standards, so we can ensure that students are ready to work with AI and it is not just an afterthought,” said Superintendent Reykdal. “We can think more critically about institutional policies and guidelines and, look more closely at the tools teachers and students are using in the classroom.”  

OSPI established an AI Advisory Group to develop policies and resources to guide school district administrators, educators, and students and families. Members work closely with organizations such as the Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA) to create protocols and respond to district requests. Digital learning and technology leaders at schools also weigh in on implementation strategies and convey the needs of specific school communities to the group.  

“We have people on the team who are passionate about student data security and teacher preparation programs, and we also have a student on the committee who is very passionate to make sure that this isn't stepping on his rights as a student," said Jeff Utecht, Independent Educational Technology Consultant and Co-Facilitator of the advisory group. 

The process OSPI is following involves iterative development, with a deliberate emphasis on stakeholder input. Initially, OSPI prioritized providing comprehensive guidance aligned with an AI educational vision and philosophy.  

Now, the focus shifts to practical support and implementation resources. These resources include a leader checklist, FAQs, classroom and student considerations with sample policies, and ethical frameworks, all aimed at fostering meaningful discussions across classrooms and districts. Work is also underway to develop support for educators’ professional learning.   

"We already have these ethical underlying agreements around how students learn and how we teach in the state," said Bre Urness-Straight, Director of Educational Technology at OSPI. "So, we're collaborating and working with a diverse group of experts to really address and understand what the specific needs of our key stakeholders are."  

OSPI, in collaboration with Washington’s Association of Educational Service Districts (AESD), will organize spring events offering professional development for educators and school leaders. These events receive support from Microsoft Philanthropies and the Northwest Council for Computer Education, which provides technology-focused learning opportunities for educational communities.  

A train-the-trainer session on March 20 and 21 helped guide coordinators and staff on using AI across various platforms and devices, with additional sessions planned for educators, schools, and districts in the coming months. A statewide summit will see agencies and school district leaders convene on AI implementation strategies later this fall. 

Educators and researchers are also working hand in hand on AI implementation in K–12 education. Experts from the University of Washington’s Information School, as well as the computer science and education departments, have lent their expertise in machine learning research and AI application development to shape guidance that will quickly adapt to new findings and policies. 

"Right now, teachers are using AI tools built for general purposes, but this technology can evolve so that there are tools for different subject areas or even different grade levels,” said Dr. Min Sun, Professor of Education Policy at the University of Washington. "We need to look at how to involve educators and students in a way that they are centered in the development process for these tools, both in terms of the interface design and the algorithm that takes their inputs."

Dr. Sun emphasizes that as educators start using AI tools in the classrooms, researchers are eager to track the effect of AI on student outcomes and give teachers the tools to do so as well. Data from these trials will help provide more equitable guidance at a faster pace, which might differ based on school district needs, teacher qualifications, or student demographics.

"As we all traverse this new and constantly changing landscape of AI, it will be important to collaborate across different education sectors—to assess the risks and explore the opportunities for both teachers and students,” said Jevin West, Associate Professor in the Information School at the University of Washington. 

Considering the student perspective on AI has been crucial to the formation of Washington’s guidance. Maxwell Richards, a 12th grade student instructional technology coach in the Bainbridge Island School District and member of the advisory group, shares his experience of working with teachers with the group and voices the need to rethink student engagement in the classroom.  

“As an instructional technology coach, I work to bridge the gap between teachers and their technology, and show how to use it successfully in class," said Richards. "I think AI is actually good because it can help us rethink assignments, like endless documents of stuff that we have to go fill out, and ask—is this actually helping anyone?" 

Students want to be taught in more transformative ways and schools are taking notice. The state guidance helps support educators as they focus more on using AI as a tool for critical thinking, discovery, and human inquiry. In the Peninsula School District, this shift is already underway as students learn to focus on the process of creating rather than the final product. 

"The teachers are looking at it a little differently and requiring students to actually show us the conversations that they had that generated the product," said Kris Hagel, Executive Director of Digital Learning at Peninsula School District and member of the advisory group. "We always want a human to oversee and to be a part of the conversation, so we're trying to discern what the students are thinking while they are working through the process." 

Led by a diverse panel of experts and active involvement from educators, students, and researchers, the guidance paves the way for future iterations and adaptations that support all types of learners and educators. Across schools in Washington, educators already echo the benefits of personalized instruction for multilingual learners and students with disabilities and diverse learning needs.  

“This initiative is not just about staying current with technology—it's about enriching the learning journey of every student and empowering our educators with the most effective tools available,” said Reykdal. “We have a big responsibility to support them on how to use these tools and how not to use them.”