Shopping online for educational products and materials that meet state standards should be easier, now that Achieve Inc. has improved the features of its database of state education standards.

Achieve, a nonprofit organization committed to raising performance levels in schools, teamed up with McREL (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning) to develop an internet-based service that links educational supplies to academic standards.

Now, vendors who supply curriculum materials can align their online products and services to specific state standards listed in the Achieve database.

The database, developed in 1998, is a searchable collection of K-12 academic standards from more than 40 states, territories, and countries.

Robert Schwartz, president of Achieve Inc., said that since all states except Iowa now have set education standards, there is a great deal of pressure for teachers to perform accordingly.

The database provides education vendors with a way of responding to educator’s demands for instructional materials that are correlated to each state’s standards.

“It is a useful tool, but by itself, it’s not sufficient,” Schwartz said. To fulfill their goal of raising performance levels in schools, Achieve and McREL need publishers and suppliers to subscribe to this service.

Classroom Connect and The New York Times Learning Network, both providers of online content, already have begun aligning their products to the state standards in the Achieve database.

“Decision makers want to make sure that the product they are buying aligns with their state’s standards,” said Jennifer House, vice president of strategic relations at Classroom Connect. “We would have to hire a whole new team to provide a service like this.”

Linking the Classroom Connect web site to the database dramatically reduces the amount of time and effort buyers spend researching the quality and appropriateness of educational products, she said.

“A lot of schools and school districts can’t buy without this,” House said. “It would take an enormous amount of time.

Robert Larson, education editor of The New York Times Learning Network, agreed that linking his site’s lesson plans with the standards database makes the site easier for teachers to use. “They need to show the people they report to that the curriculum fits in,” he said.

With the click of a button, teachers can match each lesson plan on the Learning Network site with their state’s corresponding standard. They even have the option to print the correlation.

“It allows us to send an educator, not just to the homepage of the database, but to the specific subject and grade level,” Larson said.

Achieve and McREL hope their database of standards will encourage publishers to develop better classroom materials.

“We think it is important to help people find quality,” Schwartz said. “Over time, our hope is that there is an increasing consensus of what constitutes quality.”

House said, “It makes it a lot easier for us,” because those who develop the Classroom Connect material can use the standards as a direct requirement reference.

Developing the Achieve and McREL database was extremely labor-intensive and expensive, Schwartz said. He said the groups spent $6,000 per subject per state.

Achieve provided the database of state standards, the networking, and software tools. Achieve also aligned and catalogued its state standards according to the standards structure developed by McREL.

Achieve decided to use McREL’s standard structure as its model because it is well-researched and reflects the structure of many existing standards, Schwartz said.

The McREL standards are a “synthesis of an examination of 116 documents concerning standards-based education,” said David Frost of McREL. McREL published the results of this research in a work called “Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education.”

Schwartz said the database service would be available on a “free-to-fee model” like Netscape. Netscape is free to download for a single user, but businesses have to pay a fee.

Users who visit Achieve’s web site can search the database by state, subject, grade, or key words. The site is capable of displaying information from two different states on the same page for easy comparison.

Links:

Achieve
http://www.achieve.org


McREL
http://www.mcrel.org


Classroom Connect
http://www.classroom.com


The New York Times Learning Network
http://www.nytimes.com