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STAR GAZING: Standardized Tests as Instructional Tools

Enterprise Computing Services,, Software, $4,995/year

With the emphasis on student assessment today, administrators need a way to ensure test scores are actually being used to improve learning. Part of the problem is in the timing. In late spring, districts receive test score data, which is sorted by the schools and possibly teachers. But for most districts, there's no way for teachers or administrators to organize the test data in the fall by the new school and teacher/class groupings. Because of this, test results are rarely used to customize lesson plans to meet the needs of individual students. Instead, test scores are only used to identify broad issues.

ECS Student Assessment Reporter was created to help. The software allows districts to consolidate current student demographic data and statesupplied test scores into a centralized, Web-based system, so test results can be presented in report and graph formats. All student test scores (including all sub-skill area groupings) are arranged by new school and teacher/classroom groupings.

The data can then be used in a number of ways. Teachers might realize at the beginning of the year that they need to add emphasis to fractions if this is a weak area for many of their students. Districts can allocate reading specialists to schools with the highest needs. No conversion or additional data entry is needed; the program is based on each state's testing.

ECS President Shekhar Iyer says, "STAR provides information about the academic strengths and weaknesses of particular groups of students, allowing instruction to be tailored to their needs." With online access to test scores, "standardized tests become instructional tools instead of merely measurements of past performance," he says.

Users select the desired report or graph from their secure web sever to access the results. Online help guides the user through three security levels: district, administrator and teacher. At the teacher level, data from current students would be available for the teacher to identify both group and individual student needs. Administrators can access all classes, and districts can update the database as students go through drop-add or change schools within the district.

Running the software requires a Windows NT 4.0 or Windows 2000 server, Microsoft SQL server, and Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 or higher.

Modules exist now for Florida and are in the works for Georgia and Colorado, but districts in any state can be part of a pilot program. A demonstration is available on the company's Web site. CIRCLE #510 FOR MORE INFORMATION


NetSupport, www.netsupportinc. com, Software, One-time average license cost: $40 and up per computer for 100 users (volume discounts available)

NetSupport Total Cost of Ownership was designed to make it easier to deploy and maintain software, control access in and out of the system and record inventory. It allows IT managers to monitor and manage the system's hardware in real time from their desktops, allowing them to track information such as who is using the system. This includes the computers' address information, segment analysis and connection analysis. TCO can not only show all PCs currently running a TCO agent, but also auto-discover other systems on the LAN or WAN, providing information such as IP address, MAC address and more. In addition, it can help train teachers and staff on software.

Administrators and teachers could use TCO to run and distribute software, restrict software usage to keep students from playing unauthorized games, block or allow Web surfing by time of day (i.e. ok during lunch, not during class time), monitor Web site usage and more.

The Windows-based software is available in modules, allowing a school to scale and design as large or small a package of features as needed. Standard features include hardware and inventory, software distribution and metering, license management, query-based enterprise and reporting, application management, Internet monitoring and trace routing. When paired with NetSupport Manager, TCO provides fully integrated network administration and PC remote control help desk and training solutions. CIRCLE #511 FOR MORE INFORMATION


NCS Learn,, Software/Service, $12,000 (for full package for five schools, two grades and two subjects) and up.

Educators today need more than a mapping of curriculum content to state standards. The real-time relationship between student performance on curriculum and performance on standardized tests is an important one. The High Stakes Management solution, a suite of tools and services for customers of the software and online learning program SuccessMaker, was developed through research that shows a correlation between student levels in SuccessMaker and student performance on standardized and state tests.

"The result is that educators can now forecast the time needed to reach a specific SuccessMaker level and see the relationship of [that] level to high stakes achievement," says Steve Gardner, vice president of marketing and business development at NCS Learn. High Stakes Management service options include usage evaluation, reports on progress and statistical analysis to correlate SuccessMaker outcomes to the relevant high stakes test.

The solution's real-time feedback was designed to help districts and schools meet their specific goals. For example, if a school's goal is for more than 80 percent of students to demonstrate proficiency on their state math assessment, the school can establish a SuccessMaker target level for that goal. SuccessMaker can provide a continuous view of student progress toward the target level and corresponding goal, allowing for intervention. High Stakes Management tracks the progress. CIRCLE #515 FOR MORE INFORMATION


National Research Center on English Learning & Achievement,, Television/ Video series, airs on public television in June, Videos: $199

People read differently depending on whether they're reading literary or expository text. CELA has worked with classroom teachers to develop instructional strategies that capitalize on reading differences. With the strategies in this multi-part series, teachers can help students build deeper understandings of the literature they read, write and discuss. A collaboration of Annenberg/CPB and Maryland Public Television, the first set in the series is Conversations in Literature for grades 6-12. The eight, one-hour programs feature authors, middle and high school teachers and others discussing specific works of literature. They use the "envisionment building" approach-developing interpretations by stepping into and moving through the text using their own unique perspectives. The programs will run on local public television stations in June (contact for air dates and times in your region). In addition, they are available as an eight-video set. Complimentary videos can be requested by districts for teacher professional development. A similar set of programs for elementary teachers is in development. CIRCLE #512 FOR MORE INFORMATION


McDougal Littell,, e-books, $48.60-$50.16 each for e-book only (6-year license), or $6.99 each when at least 30 print versions are purchased ($48.60-$50.16 each)

ExploreLearning has partnered with McDougal Littell to develop online versions of McDougal's Algebra 1 and Algebra 1: Concepts and Skills textbooks. The e-books, which are accessible using standard Internet browsers, feature integration of ExploreLearning's interactive content, enhanced assessment with real-time reporting, and functionality that connects teachers from throughout the country. In addition, customizable course pages allow teachers to augment the content of any page in the text with their own materials. CIRCLE #513 FOR MORE INFORMATION


Curriculum Associates,, Book series, $19.90/10-pack of student books, $4.95 each teacher's guide

The Reading & Writing Camp and Math Camp book series, designed for students in grades 1 to 8 participating in summer school or afterschool programs, can be completed in 20 days. Appropriate for remedial and accelerated summer programs, the series help students hone skills such as reasoning, recalling information, critical thinking, vocabulary and writing. The language arts series includes eight lesson books, one for each grade. The math series offers five instructional lessons targeting NCTM Content and Process standards. Both come with assessments. CIRCLE #514 FOR MORE INFORMATION

SPEAK TO ME,, Software, $24.95

TextAloud MP3, a text-to-voice program with natural sounding computer speech in 27 voices and seven languages, was designed to mirror the sound quality of server-based systems. Users can listen to Web pages, e-mail, reports, articles and other types of text, as well as store reading materials on MP3 audio files for portable MP3 players, pocket PCs or Palms.

TextAloud requires Windows 9x or higher, 64 MB of RAM or more, 10 MB disk space, and a sound card. CIRCLE #516 FOR MORE INFORMATION


Software, Webseeker 5.0, Blue Squirrel, www., $29.95

This edition of Webseeker, a metasearch tool that leverages the power of many search engines at once, includes several new features. You can schedule or instantly perform searches and have the results e-mailed to yourself, family, friends or co-workers. Oneclick searching while browsing in Internet Explorer was also added. In addition, the search results page has been improved, displaying the results list in one frame and the selected result page in another. The Toolbar now lets users choose to have only the buttons that suit individual needs. CIRCLE #518 FOR MORE INFORMATION


Follett Software,, Software, $1,200 initial cost per school/year for entire collection ($1,398 renewal cost)

The Find-It-All Collection combines Follett's One Search and Knowledge Links programs. One Search offers one interface to search traditional library sources, while Knowledge Links searches 160,000 reviewed educational sites on the Internet for additional information. The links are continually checked to ensure they are operational.

The software is available as a subscription; schools can subscribe to the entire collection or individual components. CIRCLE #517 FOR MORE INFORMATION


National Tutoring Resource Center,, Program, $1,494

The TutorLink Peer Tutoring Program is the result of 20 years of tutoring research by founder Thom Redicks. Components of the program include: an administrative guide, which defines eight guidelines for building and administering a new peer tutoring program or enhancing an existing program; a step-by-step guide for identifying learning difficulties and implementing individual tutoring sessions; a guide to training new and experienced tutors with a three-video series, Tutor Training Workshop; a reference handbook of key concepts and techniques for tutors; a CD-ROM with printable materials, such as tips for maximizing sessions and study plan forms; and two classroom posters. CIRCLE #519 FOR MORE INFORMATION


ByteCool,, Software, $29.95

This Windows program, CoolSpeech, converts text to sound, allowing users to "listen" to text or save it to a .wav file. Similar to VCR controls, the program includes play, pause, rewind, fast forward and stop reading options.

As users type, they can set CoolSpeech to read word-by-word or sentence-by-sentence; users can right-click a file to be read in the background as other work is continued. The software can announce the time on the hour or half-hour, or schedule it to read the text of specific Web sites at specific times. Applications include using the software as a writing aid, a radio receiver, an appointment reminder, a textto-wave converter, an e-book and email reader, an alarm clock and a computer voice manager. CIRCLE #520 FOR MORE INFORMATION LE CAMERA CHIC

Canon,, Hardware, $1,499

The Canon Elura 20MC can complement DV-ready computers, television and VCRs for editing, printing and sharing images in classrooms or over the Internet. The camera has three shooting modes: normal movie mode creates full motion video for playback on television; digital photo mode captures digital photos to videotape and includes audio, or still photos; and progressive scan mode records still frames continuously at 30 frames per second. The camera records to a standardized MultiMediaCard (MMC) or a Secure Digital (SD) card. CIRCLE #521 FOR MORE INFORMATION


Heinemann,, Books, $18 each

The Guiding Curriculum Decisions for Middle-Grades series helps administrators choose curricula that will sustain the interest of middle-grades students and meet state standards. The books include advice from educators about how they implemented particular curriculum materials and about the instructional approaches they found most effective for student learning. Also included are annotated resources for curriculum materials and more information about standards and frameworks. An overview of the curriculum decision-making process ties it all together. Mathematics, science and language arts titles are available. CIRCLE #522 FOR MORE INFORMATION


Hewlett-Packard,, Hardware, $1,119 (license deals avaiable)

Hewlett-Packard's computers have been used in school settings before, but the company has now introduced a laptop specifically targeted for the K-12 market. The Omnibook xt6050's bundled features include a wireless LAN, a 56k modem and the Windows XP operating system. The laptop also supports Windows 98 and 2000.

HP also provides a shock-proof case designed to house the computer, even while in use. HP supplies an additional, portable and re-chargeable battery that works with the main battery to extend the hours of operation. The Omnibook xt6050 weighs 5.1 pounds and is 1.4-inches thick; screen size is 14". CIRCLE #525 FOR MORE INFORMATION


National Research Center on English Learning & Achievement,, Television/ Video series, airs on public television in June, Videos: $199

A collaboration of Annenberg/CPB, Maryland Public Television and CELA, Conversations in Literature for grades 6-12 is the first set in a new series. The eight, one-hour programs feature authors, middle and high school teachers and others discussing specific works of literature.

The programs will run on local public television stations in June (contact for air dates in your region). They are also available as an eight-video set.

Complimentary videos can be requested by districts for teacher professional development.