Interactive curriculum systems (ICS) have shown that when well-used, they raise students’ standardized test scores. But they have yet to show they consistently improve performance in areas beyond the scope of standardized tests, such as writing ability and real-world problem-solving.

One of the best studies of how well ICS does with basic skills comes from the United Kingdom’s National Council for Educational Technology. It focused on whether interactive curriculum systems could improve pupils’ numeracy and literacy skills‹the stuff of standardized tests.

The evaluation looked at eight British schools using Computer Curriculum Corp.’s SuccessMaker. The study concludes that for numeracy, pupils using SuccessMaker achieved significantly higher results than the control groups. For reading, the findings are less clear: Some SuccessMaker students did better and some did worse than control groups.

The study also finds improved student attitudes and self-esteem. Teachers appreciate being freed of mechanical aspects of teaching. It concludes, “The role of the teachers was found to be crucial in achieving learning gains in literacy.”

Students do best when they use the program regularly, have sufficient time on the computer, and are well-supervised. Teacher training is essential.

Similar gains have been seen when an ICS is used effectively in U.S. schools. At Gunston Elementary in Lorton, Va., the Iowa survey showed sixth-graders who used SuccessMaker math for one school year gained in grade level a little more than a year and a half. Fifth-graders gained almost 1.6 years, and fourth-graders gained just over one year.

Similar successes come from schools using systems by Jostens Learning, TRO, SkillsBank, American Education, and New Century.

But not all schools are success stories. Some complain of technical problems, delays, and poor service. Some are disappointed with students’ performance. ICS companies say poor performance is due to systems being poorly implemented or used ineffectively.

ICS companies now are expanding their courseware to teach critical thinking and other more complex skills. Evidence is insufficient to assess their effectiveness in attaining these objectives. At this point, anecdotes are all we have to go on. But indications are that interactive curriculum systems may be successful at this level, too.