The McGraw-Hill Companies has announced that it will begin putting its science textbooks online at the same price as print-based versions (and at a discount if a school already owns the print versions). The company will begin with a test program of six “eTextbooks” by the end of the 2000-01 school year.

The books are the “Starting With Science” series, written for elementary and middle school grades. McGraw-Hill said the books will be supplemented with multimedia features such as video and audio clips. The books also will have a feature called “report writer’s assistant,” which will enable students to post footnotes in their online compositions. Online tests will be provided, and they will link students who answer questions incorrectly to the parts of the book that give the answers.

Despite the many concerns that publishers have about copyrighted material and the inequity of access for students who don’t have internet connections, McGraw-Hill officials said the benefits of easily updating books outweigh the negatives.

Access to the books will come through the McGraw-Hill Learning Network ( Industry observers say that McGraw-Hill’s commitment will raise the bar for online textbooks. They anticipate that Pearson PLC, Harcourt General Inc., and Houghton Mifflin Co. will speed up their eTextbook efforts.