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.