Monday, December 27, 2010

Standardized Testing: The Pressure for Progress

By Alecia Eberhardt, Intern

As recently as May 24, 2010, the principal, assistant principal and three teachers from an elementary school in Texas resigned. These five educators were part of a test-tampering scandal that shocked the district and caused a large-scale investigation of test practices and invalidation of student scores. And why? Because teachers were being offered bonuses of almost $3,000 for high achievement on state exams.

In education, standardized testing has always raised some of the biggest questions: do tests accurately measure the knowledge students have gained? Does "teaching to the test" rob students of other, more creative learning opportunities? Does testing widen the gap between high- and low-performing students? And now, it seems we have another question to consider: how does all of this affect the teachers?

Since most educational achievement, and therefore also funding and job placement, is determined by testing, teachers are under an enormous amount of pressure from themselves, administrators, and the community to ensure the success of their students. This is compounded by the fact that there are often monetary awards--raises or bonuses--offered to teachers with high-performing and improving students. This has resulted in a surprising number of cases of cheating by educators. The Texas teachers stole a copy of their test in order to include the questions in their study guides; a group of Massachusetts teachers pointed out wrong answers over students' shoulders; a Virginia school pressured its teachers to display test answers on an overhead projection; and, by far the most scandalous, administrators in a Georgia school, frightened of not meeting the "Adequate Yearly Progress" level, actually erased and corrected student answers on state tests after they were collected.

Many teachers and administrators continue to wrestle with the issues surrounding effective evaluation of students and teachers. Many agree there is no easy single instrument--such as standardized tests--for measuring student progress and teacher effectiveness. Many also agree that fair evaluation should come from a combination of measures, some objective and some subjective. We can only hope the proper mix can be found so evaluation of teaching and learning becomes effective and efficient, and not a reason for cheating.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Disabilities-Accessible Content

By Lori Becker, President & CEO

Have you noticed lately that many school district web sites are now committed to making content accessible to all, including those with disabilities? These school systems are sensitive to their audiences and are setting positive examples of the importance of accessibility for all.

These schools systems are following the requirements outlined in Section 508 of the Workforce Investment Act. Even though Section 508 standards generally apply to the federal government, schools are now requesting Section 508 compliant materials. Publishers developing online content for the classroom are finding that school systems have become very interested in technology materials that meet Section 508 guidelines.

The National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) outlines a structural digital format for printed materials for K-12. These XML-based source files allow school districts to create alternate versions of core text materials to Braille, talking books, etc. As you have no doubt experienced, the states are requiring that these NIMAS conversions be a part of the adoption submissions.

As your product plans are finalized and you schedule your programs for state adoption submission dates, be sure and give us a call. At Publishing Solutions Group, we can help you tag your content to meet Section 508 standards as well as NIMAS. Our technology specialists will work with you to tag content in the formats you need for your upcoming adoption opportunities.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Collaborative Textbook Authoring

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Development

After spending over 30 years in the publishing industry, I’ve collaborated in the development and production of thousands of published works. I’ve worked with authors, editors, designers, illustrators, proofreaders, production artists, translators, reviewers—hundreds of people who contributed to the accuracy and quality of each book or digital offering. We followed procedures to ensure content was accurate and errors were eliminated, relying on the next level of review to check the previous changes and additions.

Now that the Internet has given most everybody access to, well, most everything, anyone with a computer can become an author through Wikipedia and numerous blogs. And a major publisher will now allow college and university instructors to edit and rewrite online textbooks—online. This new process struck me as odd, if only because my training and experience always included someone checking behind me each time I changed anything in a manuscript or page proof. But this program allows and even encourages instructors to “fine-tune a textbook,” leaving it to students, parents, and other instructors to help monitor the changes.

I’m interested to see how this innovative plan works over time, specifically in the opinion of the original textbook authors whose works will be revised. I’m also curious to see what kind of changes come about to textbooks when left in the hands of an instructor with strong biases toward one theory or another; or one with fanatical religious or political beliefs; or another who has an ax to grind with the publisher or university. And then there’s the inevitable hacker, who might make changes just for the fun of it. Stay tuned to this one.

Wherever you might fall in the process of creating content, give us a call at PSG for help with your publishing needs.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Comments from 'The Professor'

By Richard Carson, PhD, Senior Editor

One of the experiences that I treasured most as an English professor was teaching first-year students. It was particularly satisfying to watch students grow as readers and writers, to cheer them on as they became more and more comfortable with complex analyses of challenging texts. To reach that point however, we had to get past the dreaded first paper, an experience that made painfully clear to many that what had once worked in high school classrooms would no longer fit the bill for college assignments.

Those who had a particularly difficult struggle at this moment were the authors who simply developed a thematic statement with a plot summary. Often these efforts were grammatically correct, even stylistically polished, and their authors believed that the only just reward for their efforts was a grade that corresponded to the first letter of the alphabet. When my response involved a character found a few notches down the alpha scoring ladder, the recipient appeared at my office, aghast with disbelief. While I promised other rewards--the joy of engaging with texts, the thrill of developing original ideas--the pain, for the moment at least, remained profound.

If early predictions are correct, future AP World History exams will fortify students for these college writing experiences by requiring them to analyze and evaluate key documents. They will provide primary sources for students to analyze how assessments of key figures changed over time. They will assess the value of contemporary scholarship by applying the insights of key scholars to primary sources that challenge and/or validate those insights. Further predictions indicate that comparable revisions to European and American history exams are soon to follow. Such developments will require students to engage with a variety of texts earlier in their careers, and will thereby better prepare them for those first college papers. If students are more advanced when they get to college, who knows how much they can grow.

If you need help creating materials for the advanced placement market, give us a call, and we can have Richard show you what he knows about preparing students for the rigors of college academics.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Open Education Resources Movement

By Caitlin Dwyer, Sales and Marketing Assistant

A recent New York Times article discussed a growing movement in which colleges and universities are putting lectures and course materials online for anyone in the world to access. Lectures by professors from Yale, MIT, and UC Berkeley, among others, are available on sites such as YouTube and iTunes for no cost as part of the "open educational resources" movement. Though originally intended as a tool for educators, the vast majority of people accessing these materials--43 percent at M.I.T. and 69 percent at Yale--are independent learners from across the globe. While these students do not receive grades or degrees, they are afforded the chance to pursue an education that may lie beyond their financial means--on their time and their terms.

Though this method of education is a stark contrast to the traditional classroom-based methods, the New York Times reports that students learn a full semester's worth of material in half the time when online coursework is added. The online classroom certainly has its pros and cons. It allows students to participate in the course while maintaining a full-time job or other obligations, but it can leave certain students craving the four walls of a classroom, where discussions with peers and educators flow naturally, and professors are readily available to discuss difficult texts and assignments.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Standardized Testing Reform in Massachusetts

By Alecia Eberhardt, Intern

I didn't grow up in Massachusetts, so when I began tutoring elementary and high school students after I moved here three years ago, I didn't understand why the number one thing on their mind was the MCAS test.

The MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) tests are so important to these students because not only do they take these tests every year from third to eighth grade, the high school level tests actually determine whether or not students are allowed to graduate. There is controversy surrounding these and many other standardized tests; there is always the fear that when education is based solely on numbers, teachers begin "teaching to the test," and students lose out on educational opportunities that fall outside the realm of the exam (art, music, etc.). On the other side, however, is the fact that there needs to be a system in place to ensure that students are learning the fundamentals of education: reading, writing, and arithmetic. And, in the case of the MCAS, science and technology too.

So when the issue of scrapping the MCAS tests was raised recently by state education officials, I was intrigued. If any changes are made, it doesn't look like they'll be substantial. Massachusetts is considering working with about a dozen other states to create a test that represents a "national standard," as pushed by the Obama administration. So the tests will still be there, they may just be slightly altered. This doesn't alleviate concerns about the tests, but it would ensure that all students (at least in these twelve states) are held at equal standards--just as long as those standards are as high as or higher than the ones at which Massachusetts students are currently held.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Audio Production is on the Rise!

By Lori Becker, President & CEO

PSG offers professional audio recording, editing, production, post-production, and engineering services for all your voice-over, dubbing, captioning or interactive components. With professional voice talent, scriptwriters, and audio engineers at the ready, we have the resources, personnel, and expertise to professionally write, record, produce, edit, and mix your audio content.

What can PSG boast as your audio production partner?

  • Experienced audio engineers and producers
  • Professional voice talent, including bilingual artists
  • Professional script writing and highlighting
  • Quality review and remediation resources
  • Flexible session scheduling
  • Multilingual translation specialists
  • Multiple digital delivery system

Spanish-Language Market Focus Expanding your presence in the Spanish-language marketplace goes beyond the printed page.

Dynamic content, including audio, is in demand in today's interactive world. Are you producing audio projects with native-speaking voice talent and taking advantage of the explosive growth in demand for Spanish-language content? Whether you have existing Spanish that you'd like to re-purpose or want to translate print, Web, or interactive components to produce new Spanish assets, PSG has the resources and expertise to help you to produce and deliver your localized content. Give PSG a call today. We're here to help.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Excellent Customer Service is Just a Call Away

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Development

Does great customer service really make a difference? If you ask Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, an online shoe retailer, he would most likely say "Absolutely!"

Known for outstanding customer service, Zappos was purchased by Amazon last fall for $1.2 billion. When asked in a recent Newsweek interview about the value of customer service, Hsieh responded: "Great customer service is expensive, and the payoff is two or three years down the road. If all we wanted was to maximize our 2010 profits, we'd fire everyone and stop answering the phones. But I think we're at an inflection point where we're seeing companies that do it well start to win. I think that's only going to continue."

When asked about the most effective means of communicating with customers, the Zappos CEO was pretty old fashioned in his approach: "We live in a hyper-connected world. Information spreads like wildfire through social networking. But I still say the telephone is best. You have the undivided attention of customers. And if you get it right, they really remember."

At PSG, we look at customer service as important as the content we create. We encourage our project managers to got on the phone and talk to our clients. For every project we schedule a weekly status phone call to check up on progress and solve problems. It brings a more personal touch to the project than a constant flow of digital words and numbers, and it gives the client and our staff the opportunity to get to know each other, which can result in a trusting relationship. And you can be sure our staff will respond promptly to your requests.

We have all complained at one time or another about not being able to talk to a real live person when we require some help from a business. If you need help from us, we're only a quick phone call away.

In fact, call me right now at 614.760.8855, and I'd be happy to talk with you about PSG's great customer service.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Knitting and Nintendo

By Lori Becker, President & CEO

Busy, busy, busy. That's how my friends and family describe me so it wasn't a big surprise when I announced that along with my business, dance classes, the gym, volunteer work and a handful of little projects, I was also going to learn to knit. And I did. I took my first class in November thinking that I would be able to make some holiday gifts as I progressed. Well, that did not happen. I sorely underestimated how long it would take to make my first scarf (it's purple tweed) along with all of my other projects - not to mention starting additional knitting projects before I finished the first scarf!

I was finally settling into a nice, comfortable rhythm with needles clicking and the scarf growing longer when along came a shiny new Nintendo DS Lite. It was a Christmas gift. At first I was a little surprised to get one but as soon as I turned it on, the 80s gamer inside me was back in action. Back then I was all about Ms. Pac Man (yes, I was a high-scoring gamer geek) but now I've matured and moved on to collecting coins and 1-up mushrooms and squashing Goombas in Super Mario Bros.

Now I have two more passions -- one new and one revived. I'm sure that several of you are knitters and crafters or gamers, or are married/related to one of us, so you'll understand how I ended up knee-deep in three knitting projects at one time while trying to rack up an even higher score with my new friend Mario.

Where am I now? I am multi-tasking and finding room for both of my new crushes. The biggest challenge is, of course, deciding which pattern to follow and which yarn to dig out of my over-flowing "I'm sure I will use this yarn for something" basket while wondering if I am ever going to make it to the next course and rescue Princess Peach?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Digital College Recruitment

By Kaitlin Loss, Editorial Assistant

Today, the word 'college' is almost synonymous with the word 'online.' You can apply to college online, register for classes online, read textbooks online, and even take classes online. So it’s not really that surprising that many colleges are beginning to recruit students online. Gone are the days of college fairs in high school gyms, where recruiters speak to a handful of overwhelmed students for around two minutes each, the days where high school juniors and seniors find their mailboxes overrun with brochures for every college in America. Now, with the Internet, a recruiter can reach out to hundreds and thousands of students at a time without leaving their office.

The most important tool a college recruiter now has is the school’s website. There, they can give virtual campus tours, show samplings of work done by current students, and house important information in one easy-to-use place. Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube not only allow recruiters to reach out to potential students, but also for those potential students to get to know each other, current students, and what the school has to offer them.

Since it’s less expensive for colleges to translate online materials into other languages than printed materials—without taking into account the money they save in postage, paper, and travel expenses for their recruiters—it’s no wonder most schools have moved on to digital recruitment. Most teenagers visit the Internet more than they visit their mailboxes, and so recruiters have a better chance of coming into contact with qualified and interested students through the internet.

Because so much of the college process now takes place online, it’ll be interesting to see how the digital recruitment process affects students once they actually get into college. Will they opt for e-Books instead of textbooks? Or will they even try and find online classes instead of spending time in the traditional classroom?

Monday, October 18, 2010

iPads: iPerfect for Classrooms?

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Development

It should be no surprise that many new technologies are making inroads into schools and classrooms. Most every school has computers and SMART Boards, and many teachers receive answers to tests from students via hand-held wireless devices.

Apple's iPad has been making its way into schools since it was released, but there seems to be a recent surge of these devices and their accompanying apps that are addressing the potential of this innovative tablet in the classroom.

  • Winthrop, Minnesota schools intend to put an iPad into the hands of every student. High school students note the iPad will replace the 20-30 pounds of books they carry in their backpacks.
  • St. Catherine's School in Racine, Wisconsin now requires all new middle school students to pay a $400 technology fee to cover the cost of an iPad, replacing the previous textbook fees, and obviously, replacing the textbooks.
  • California is in its first year of a major trial to use the iPad instead of a textbook for classes in Algebra 1 in Long Beach, Riverside, Fresno, and San Francisco. The 400 students in the trial will be able to access more than 400 videos instantly from their iPads via a program developed by a major educational publisher.

There's no doubt this new means of accessing instructional content will have an impact on the classroom and learning, and the way students interact with the content, their teachers, and each other. And it should be noted that the initiative in California is being evaluated by a firm that will measure the success of the "e-textbook" approach compared to the success of students using traditional print materials.

But not everyone is banging the drum for this new player in the classroom. Some warn that the schools will need to restrict the use of the iPads so students cannot download inappropriate apps. (Most districts already do this with student computers.) One critic of the program at St. Catherine's felt these young students would become targets toting around expensive technology. (After all, who would want to steal a math book?) Larry Cubin, a professor emeritus of education at Stanford University, warns "There is little evidence that kids learn more, faster or better by using these machines. iPads are marvelous tools to engage kids, but then the novelty wears off and you get into hard-core issues of teaching and learning."

I recall the same things being said about computers twenty years ago, and the desktop and laptops seem to have earned a permanent spot in educating our kids. And if iPads truly engage students, that can be an important first step to learning. Time will tell how this newest technology will fare, but the iPad and its programs will need to work hard (and well) to satisfy the skeptics.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Identifying Dropouts Before They Drop Out

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Development

While government agencies and school administrators focus on standards, AYP, accountability, and other urgent issues in education, an oft-overlooked segment of students is receiving some welcome attention. The proposed federal budget for 2010 has assigned $50 million to be used for dropout prevention. The stimulus package includes $3.5 billion to help turn around low-performing schools, and presumably a portion of that will also be earmarked to help lower the dropout rate. According to current estimates, some 1.2 million students drop out of school each year--equivalent to 7,000 students a day.

A recent report from the National Association of State Board Educators includes these recommendations for addressing the dropout issue:

  • Promote community partnerships to encourage student retention.
  • Develop a comprehensive student data system that can help identify potential dropouts.
  • Deliver the needed training to schools and districts to help them foster effective partnerships and dropout prevention plans.
  • Create multiple pathways to graduation.

The second item regarding identifying potential dropouts struck me as quite interesting. The state of Louisiana has an exemplary program called DEWS: Dropout Early Warning System, that tracks indicators such as high absentee rate; GPAs under 1.0, a sudden half-point drop in a student's GPA; and if a student is older than the typical age for that grade level. Once major publisher offers a software program that tracks this type of student data, flags potential dropouts, and helps teachers and administrators prevent these at-risk students from dropping out.

These programs - and the dedicated teachers and administrators who implement them - can help throw out a safety net for these kids before they fall through society's cracks. Bravo to all for these efforts.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Race to Adopt

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Development

It looks as though the movement to adopt the Common Core Standards is gaining momentum. These standards, drawn up by state school chiefs and released this spring, will provide a set of Math and Language Arts objectives that will bring consistency to what our children are taught across the country. Pushing for these national standards will also discourage states from "weakening" their standards to avoid being penalized by the federal No Child Left Behind law.

As reported in The New York Times twenty-seven states have already adopted the standards, and another dozen should sign on this summer. This quick acceptance and adoption of the standards by so many states is due in part to the Obama administration's "Race to the Top" competition, an initiative designed to improve instruction in our nation's schools. The states that adopt the new standards by August 2 will earn points for a share of the $3.2 billion in education funds to be awarded to states this fall.

While the "Race to Adopt" (as some have called the move to accept the standards) has been swift, some supporters have cautioned that during these tough economic times, not all states will have the money to pay for the full implementation and training required, possibly resulting in less-than-satisfactory achievement based on the new standards.

What does this mean for our colleagues in the educational publishing world? Most likely many are evaluating their major programs against the new standards to see how much revision will be needed for complete alignment. Others may be anticipating that developing a basal program to align with one set of standards will be more economical, instead of having to customize programs to meet a wide variety of states' objectives. But unless California, Texas, and Florida get on board, the industry may still see the need for separate editions.

Need help with program alignment? PSG has a lot of experience with the current states' standards, and we've been doing our homework preparing for work with the new Common Core Standards. Contact us if you're considering any work with aligning your current program or developing a new program to align with these new standards.