New ISTE hopes to expand impact through merger with NECA

Educators who attended this year’s NECC most likely didn’t notice many changes, although the leadership behind the conference was different.

But the merger of the National Education Computing Association (NECA), which has planned and organized NECC for the past 23 years, with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) ultimately will be a boon for schools, according to ISTE officials, because it will broaden ISTE’s reach and expand the group’s impact.

“It’s just a natural pairing. We’ve been very strong, intertwined allies for such a long time,” said Marlene Nesary, marketing analyst for ISTE. “They are an event, and we are a professional society. Now their event is our event, and it’s the premier event of this profession.”

The transition is not yet complete, although it has been under way for quite some time. Currently, the new ISTE has two co-presidents: Cathleen Norris from NECA and Cheryl Williams from ISTE. The new ISTE is governed by a joint board of directors.

Jan Van Dam, director of new media at Oakland Schools in Michigan, was elected president of ISTE for next year.

Oakland Schools is a regional educational service center in Oakland County, Mich., serving 28 local school districts, 20,000 educators, and 200,000 students.

Don Knezek, ISTE’s new chief executive officer, said the merger provides ISTE with a broader audience and the opportunity to reach members at a national annual event, which will expand the group’s influence on ed-tech issues. Knezek formerly served as executive director of ISTE’s Center for Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology.

ISTE has approximately 75,000 members nationally and internationally who are classroom teachers, technology coordinators, and school administrators. By playing a larger role in NECC, the society can reach conference attendees and develop partnerships with the corporate sector, Knezek said.

“We see the new ISTE making a difference in education through new corporate alliances,” he said.

As CEO, Knezek will work on building ISTE’s educational partnerships, programs, and international reach. Other priorities include growing and diversifying membership; strengthening alliances with government entities and corporate partners; and developing standards-based solutions that expand opportunities for all learners.

A transition team of 10 ISTE and NECA representatives developed new bylaws and outlined the merger process. Membership of both organizations voted for the new bylaws, approving the merger as of June 1.

ISTE’s activities to date have focused on knowledge generation, professional development, and ed-tech advocacy.

The society publishes a monthly magazine called Learning and Leading with Technology, as well as guidebooks to implementing the standards it has developed—including the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) for both teachers and administrators.

Last year, ISTE developed the Center for Applied Research in Educational Technology (CARET), an online database of ed-tech research that school administrators can use to search for the latest research by category. CARET, which is a three-year project funded by a $1.05 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, translates research into user-friendly language that can be applied to school planning decisions.

ISTE’s professional development activities have included creating special-interest groups for certain demographics, such as multimedia specialists, education professors, and high school computer science teachers. These groups offer their members an active listserve devoted to their area of interest, as well as newsletters or magazines, meetings, and awards programs.

ISTE also creates custom professional development solutions for states and school districts designed to meet their specific needs. The society currently is working with China to develop a program for training that country’s teachers to use technology. ISTE already has completed similar projects with Jamaica and Bermuda, Nesary said.

Lastly, ISTE acts as a conduit of education policy information. The society issues a newsletter about ed-tech policy, called Washington Notes, written by its legal counsel, Leslie Harris and Associates. It also hosts roundtable discussions at which experts discuss prominent policy issues. ISTE plans to strengthen its policy role by moving its headquarters from Oregon to Washington, D.C., this summer.

NECA was composed not of individual members but of 13 professional societies, one of which was ISTE. To accommodate these members, ISTE has created a new class of membership, called Cooperating Professional Societies. These will be offered renewable one-year memberships to ISTE.

In the future, the new ISTE plans to continue to expand CARET, become more involved with state ed-tech directors, and increase its professional development offerings, Nesary said.

Related links:
International Society for Technology in Education

National Education Computing Conference


Attendance, accountability mark this year’s NECC

Like the joyful tumult spawned by a drenching downpour after months of drought, the hubbub and energy swirled through the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center at the 2002 National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in San Antonio, June 17-19.

By organizer reckoning, more than 14,000 were on hand for the conference and exposition—some 3,500 exhibitors staffing approximately 425 booths and more than 10,000 teachers, administrators, and professors cramming into session rooms.

Exact numbers aside, the hall and corridors certainly were teeming throughout the meeting, and several general sessions drew standing-room-only attendance. In glowing contrast to the somber, sparsely attended confabs held late last year and earlier in 2002, the NECC show reminded some seasoned conference-goers of happier times in the technology sector.

Two main topics seemed to dominate the conversations at NECC: the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), with all its attendant opportunities and problems, and the turnout and enthusiasm of the conference itself. Both had origins in Texas.

For a sampling of the presentations delivered at NECC, visit the link at the end of this story for nearly 200 presenter handouts available in PDF format.

NECC, now merged into the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), benefited because Texas has been less hard hit economically than many other states and because schools were out throughout the state by conference time. This meant districts could send teachers without having to hire substitutes.

Whether NECC’s success was a singular phenomenon or the harbinger of a sustainable trend will be clearer when the National School Boards Association’s Technology + Learning Conference is held in Dallas in November.

Meanwhile, the exhibit hall was alive with vendors eager to do their part in helping educators take advantage of every edge high tech has to offer in the struggle to meet old challenges and new federal requirements. Here’s a quick tour of some of the key offerings attendees found in the NECC exhibit hall:

Tracking, reporting, and accountability

Many exhibitors aimed their products and services squarely at the No Child Left Behind Act and its new accountability requirements for schools.

To help schools with tracking and reporting necessary performance data, NCS Learn introduced SASIxp 5.0, the newest release of its K-12 student administrative system. Version 5.0 expands the system’s functionality with a new Report Designer module, which gives users access to a wide variety of report templates and the ability to create and customize reports easily—a feature that will help schools aggregate and present data as they strive to comply with the requirements of NCLB, said Allison Duquette, the company’s vice president of product management and marketing.

Another provider of student information systems, Administrative Assistants Ltd. (AAL), announced that two school districts in Arizona have become the first in the nation to implement the company’s new web-based student information system, called eSIS. Yuma School District No.1 and Yuma Union High School District No. 70 will use the system to provide administrators, teachers, and professional staff from 22 schools with a solution to better manage student information. eSIS users will have real-time access to all types of student records, from bus schedules and health records to attendance sheets, the company said. The product will allow school leaders to cross-reference and compare statistics throughout the district while giving teachers access to up-to-date student information immediately.

Swift Knowledge Inc. announced that the Arizona Department of Education has expanded its contract with the company, asking it to provide its Student Accountability Information System (SAIS) to all schools across the state. According to the company, SAIS is a data management solution that will track the performance of the state’s 800,000 K-12 public school students in a safe, secure fashion. Arizona officials said expansion of SAIS across the state was necessary to ensure that schools would meet new standards for accountability under NCLB. SAIS tracks test data, correlates results, breaks down figures, and is easily accessible through a user-friendly interface, the company said.

On the instructional side, HOSTS Learning—a company that provides research-based learning systems for reading and math—is seeking to help educators meet the requirements of NCLB with the announcement of its LearnerLink offering. According to the company, LearnerLink is an internet-based tool that helps teachers manage, educate, and assess the progress of classroom reading instruction. The product makes it possible to create standards-based lessons and aggregate performance results at the individual student, class, school, district, or state levels.

HOSTS also unveiled the Reading Centered School, a school-wide literacy system aimed at helping schools secure funds under the Bush administration’s Reading First initiative. The company says the program can be integrated with scientifically based reading textbooks to provide assessment for students and professional development for teachers. A record-keeping and reporting function lets schools demonstrate proven rates of success and helps secure funds now hinged on accountability, the company said.

In terms of assessment, EdVISION Corp. said that South Dakota recently completed an online assessment of students’ abilities in every school across the state using the company’s Performance Series. The product is an entirely web-based tool for the assessment of individual students’ abilities in several major subject areas, including reading, math, science, and language arts. In light of the product’s success in South Dakota, 60 Central Michigan University charter schools have selected the Performance Series to track student growth, the company said.

Handheld technology

This year’s NECC offered further evidence that handheld technologies continue to make inroads into K-12 schools. David Nagel, chief executive officer of PalmSource—the Palm OS subsidiary of Palm Inc.—cited figures from market research firm International Data Corp. that show the trend toward mobility building quickly: In a May 30 press release, IDC said, “The K-12 market is moving from desktop PCs toward notebook computers and smart handheld devices, a shift expected to rapidly accelerate at the start of the 2003-2004 academic year.”

Palm and its operating system will play a big part in the shift, Nagel said. Educators can expect to see broader choices in mobile products for education as more and more companies, such as AlphaSmart, develop new products around the Palm OS.

At NECC, AlphaSmart introduced the first Palm-powered laptop designed specifically for education. The device, called Dana, costs $369 and operates all Palm applications on a body that looks more like a traditional AlphaSmart computer. It supports graffiti and has a pen stylus, but it also has a built-in, full-sized keyboard for text entry. “We think the majority of text entry will be with the keyboard,” said Chris Bryant, AlphaSmart’s vice president of marketing and business development.

Dana—which combines the functionality and affordability of a handheld computer with the larger screen size and greater durability of a laptop—also features two USB ports that let students connect to computers, science probes, or printers. “It also charges through the USB port, so it can charge from any computer or device it is connected to,” Bryant said. “If a student is walking around and the power is getting low, [he or she] can be a little parasite and charge the power off any nearby computer.”

The device’s display is three and half times larger than the typical Palm display. Students can choose to view programs in landscape or portrait fashion. At 12 inches wide, 9 inches long, and 2 inches thick, Dana is larger than most handheld devices. Weighing two pounds, Dana is light and as rugged as a traditional AlphaSmart computer, successfully passing a three-foot drop test.

Not to be outdone, Texas Instruments introduced TI Keyboard, a full-size QWERTY (or traditional typewriter) keyboard available for use with the company’s most popular handheld devices, including the TI-83 Plus graphing calculator. The keyboard allows students to type notes directly into their TI handheld devices, expanding the instruments’ versatility beyond math and science classes. The device comes prepackaged with a cradle to hold students’ TI handhelds at an easy-to-see angle and is small enough to fit into a backpack. TI also announced that it is working with the National Council of Social Studies and the National Council of Teachers of English to develop standards-based, classroom-ready activities for students and teachers to use with handheld technologies in these subjects.

eLearning options

Proof that online learning continues to thrive also abounded at this year’s NECC, as several traditional textbook publishers unveiled new eLearning initiatives.

Publisher Harcourt Inc. introduced a new eLearning team to support the development of online educational products and services throughout the company’s many business units. The new team will be responsible for providing technical expertise, research, and intelligence for product development, support, and further acquisitions, the company said. Also at NECC, Classroom Connect—a division of Harcourt that provides educational services through online subscriptions—announced that it has partnered with several state departments of education to create customized web content and educational resources for state web sites.

Another Harcourt company, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, announced the release of an online social studies textbook series for grades six through 12. The new Holt Online Learning series is the first of its kind to seamlessly integrate print and technology components, giving students and teachers a choice of instructional media, according to the company. The online textbooks don’t just deliver text on a web site; instead, each online textbook boosts student interaction and relates history to current events with tools such as CNN Student News. The online textbooks also include Interactive Time Lines, Interactive Maps, the Holt Researcher Online, the Holt Grapher, Homework Practice Online, Standardized Test Preparation, and project-based portfolio activities, the company said.

Further signaling the growth of eLearning in K-12 schools, America Online announced that its online learning program AOL@School has reached more than 36 percent of K-12 schools in all 50 states. The two-year-old program was devised to help bridge the digital divide by providing free online services targeted toward less affluent communities. The company said it recently expanded AOL@School’s offerings through partnerships with several companies, including APTE, Artsonia, ipicturebooks, Tritone Music, and TestU. New features include learning games, custom art galleries, eBooks, and beginning music courses.

Apex Learning, a provider of online instruction and resources for high schools, announced that more than 75,000 students have used the company’s online courses, learning tools, and test preparation vehicles in the past four years. Apex also touted the success of its AP Exam Review, which delivers online diagnostics and creates personal study plans to help students succeed in advanced placement courses. The company is offering its ClassTools lesson design feature at a 28-percent discount to educators until July 15. Apex also unveiled a number of new online AP courses for the fall, including biology, Spanish, and psychology.

Filtering and network security

Absolute Software, a provider of managed services for computer security and tracking, demonstrated its ComputracePlus computer tracking software. ComputracePlus enables school administrators to keep track of remote, mobile, and local PCs and stop uncontrolled losses. The software helps security departments monitor PC asset location on a daily basis and attempt to recover assets if they are stolen. The company also previewed AbsoluteTrack, a secure asset tracking and inventory management solution. Powered by the companyís Computrace technology platform, AbsoluteTrack simplifies the management of software licenses, computer leases, machine configuration, PC retirement, upgrades, and device ownership, while helping to control PC loss and monitor security policy violations.

N2H2 announced the upcoming release of a fully integrated, scalable web filtering solution for schools using Novell BorderManager. The solution, to be released in late summer, leverages the identity-based policy engine of BorderManager, enabling users to control and monitor students’ and employees’ internet access down to the individual user and session time. N2H2 also said it has added the Houston and Baltimore school districts to its list of education customers.

Rival filtering company SurfControl launched eMail Filter 4.0, a comprehensive eMail content management solution for schools. The software comes with a unique RiskFilter technology that automatically stops the delivery of spam and other digital junk such as hoaxes, chain letters, jokes, and graphic file attachments that contain offensive material and open a school to potential liability or network vulnerability. It also offers a new, add-on component called the Virtual Learning Agent, an intelligent tool that “learns” an organization’s specific information and then keeps sensitive documents from being accidentally, or purposely, eMailed to unintended or unauthorized recipients—a feature particularly important to schools, which maintain personal student records, SurfControl said. eMail Filter 4.0 costs about $19 per user, based on an installation of 500 users. A free, 30-day evaluation copy of the product can be found at the company’s web site.

Contests, grants, and special offers

Adobe has bundled some of its most popular software products and is offering educators a back-to-school special under the Adobe Design Collection brand. The bundle includes Adobe Photoshop 7.0, Illustrator 10, InDesign 2.0, and Acrobat 5.0, along with a GoLive 6.0 and LiveMotion 2.0 training CD. The collection bears a suggested reseller price of $399.

eZedia Inc., makers of digital media software, introduced Zoom-ed, a free educational program that provides lesson plans, media content, training, and grant information. Users of the free service will receive a special price discount on EZediaMX, the company’s multimedia authoring software, eZedia said. The product allows students and teachers to create interactive presentations, electronic portfolios, digital storybooks, and courseware using a combination of video, graphics, sound, text, and the web. For a limited time, Zoom-ed’s Classroom Contest also gives teachers a chance to win one of three free Apple eMacs for their schools.

Hewlett-Packard Co. and IndiVisual Learning LLC announced a partnership to award two $25,000 “Read for Life” scholarships. The awards will be given to two private, public, charter, or parochial schools that demonstrate a need for financial aid, a high population of English as a Second Language or Limited English Proficient students, and staff that are dedicated to the integration of technology. Winners also will receive a wireless mobile computer lab and five in-class workstations, plus three years’ free use of IndiVisual’s Reading product, a computer-based intervention program for students ages eight to 18. Educators may apply for the grant award by visiting IndiVisual’s web site.

National Semiconductor, along with Wyse Technology and Citrix Systems Inc., announced the 2002 winner of the companies’ Thin Client@School contest, which supplies thin-client hardware, software, and networking services to an economically disadvantaged school to create a low-cost, easy-to-manage computer network. This year’s winner is Rehoboth Christian School of Gallup, N.M., which received equipment and services valued at $104,000. The award will allow Rehoboth to create new technology-based programs in science, economics, history, and current events.

Hardware and connectivity

3Com Corp. briefed attendees on a number of new developments, including its NJ100 Network Jack. The company says this wall-mounted jack will reduce the cost of wiring for cabling infrastructure and bring Ethernet switching technology closer to the desktop. The jack fits into any standard-size wall cutout and comes complete with six device ports, as opposed to the standard one or two seen with traditional Ethernet jacks. 3Com also announced that the University City, Miss., School District will upgrade its local area network with $350,000 worth of the company’s Gigabit Ethernet and firewall products. The district, which educates 4,200 students, will use 3Com’s Switch 4007 to deliver online learning applications and its SuperStack 3 firewall to improve security and control internet access in schools, the company said.

Dell Computer sought to broaden its lead in the education market with the announcement of its new Cyberspace Modular Classroom. In partnership with Williams Scotsman, a provider of modular buildings and portable classrooms, the computer giant has developed portable classrooms equipped with an array of computer systems and peripherals, which can be customized to work with schools’ existing technology infrastructure, allowing students in portable classrooms to achieve the same connectivity as those inside fully wired buildings or computer labs.

Dell also announced a partnership with Microsoft Corp. to sell specially packaged network servers and notebook computers to schools in the United States under the Class Server brand. The agreement means Dell will manufacture and sell servers and computers that feature Microsoft education software designed to allow teachers and school administrators to organize and manage institutional resources and individualize student lessons. The new systems are expected to be available for order this summer.

InFocus Corp. demonstrated its latest two classroom projectors. The LP250 and the LP240 combine portability and ease of use with seamless images and software compatibility, the company said. Each of the company’s new projectors comes with a variety of tools aimed to help teachers use precious instruction time more effectively. The projectors have color-coded cables for easy setup; large, readable buttons; simplified user interfaces with pull-down menus; and interactive keypads. According to the company, both products are lightweight and easy to move around the school, and each machine works with the company’s ProjectorNet software, which lets schools manage and maintain any number of projectors from a centralized location.

Productivity suites and professional development

Certiport Inc. and Course Technology are teaming up to provide performance-based computer certification programs to educators and students. The Internet and Computing Core Certification (IC3) exams cover a number of basic computing concepts from networking to internet knowledge, the companies said. Under the partnership, Certiport will enable certain schools to become iQcenters. Only selected schools and institutions will be able to administer the certification exams. The decision is part of an effort to ensure that all exams are given correctly, securely, and according to procedure. The companies said IC3 is the first computer certification course recognized by the National Skill Standards Board for its quality and effectiveness.

Along with its array of server, desktop, and laptop products, Gateway offered attendees online professional development. The company’s Educator Productivity Online Learning Subscription is designed to match any educator’s skill level and learning goals. This online library allows educators to learn about software such as Word, Excel, WordPerfect and take their skills from beginner to mastery level. Besides the convenience of online learning, many of Gateway’s Online Learning Library courses allow educators to earn Continuing Education Units.

Lightspan Inc. announced that Academic Systems, a division of the company that previously has targeted colleges and universities, now will offer its services to secondary schools. Academic Systems’ Interactive Mathematics is a computer-based learning tool that helps students prepare for important standardized tests and improve their math skills overall. Also, in a move to satisfy a high demand for professional development among America’s teachers, Lightspan announced that it will offer teachers continuing education credits through its Lightspan University professional development programs.

PLATO Learning, which acquired Georgia-based NetSchools Corp. in May, announced the creation of a new professional services division called TeachMaster Professional Services Group, which combines PLATO Learning and NetSchools education consultants under the leadership of Donna Elmore, previously with NetSchools. The new division will offer schools a choice of training programs and flexible blocks of professional development time. “Services will be offered throughout the school year and via different delivery methods to meet the varying needs and expertise levels of schools,” said Elmore, a former South Carolina school superintendent with 30 years’ experience in education.

Sun Microsystems has responded to tight school budgets with the StarOffice 6.0 Office Suite, a full-feature, multi-platform productivity program providing word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, graphics, and database functionality. What’s remarkable about this product is its cost: Free. Schools receive no-cost licenses for StarOffice 6.0. They pay only for the delivery medium and shipping, which amounts to less than $30, according to Sun. The software package runs on Windows, Linux, or Solaris operating systems and is file-compatible with Microsoft Office. Sun offers free training and technical support for StarOffice.

Other announcements

Apple Computer, maker of the popular iMac and new eMac desktop computers, announced an updated version of its PowerSchool student information system. PowerSchool SIS V.3 now supports the Mac OS X, the company said. Further advancements include a new integrated schedule builder, an updated PowerGrade tool that lets teachers include students’ photos with seating charts, and an easier-to-use graphic interface. Also at NECC, Apple announced its Apple Digital Campus Curriculum. The new project- and computer-based learning activities seek to modernize schools’ course offerings by providing instruction support in areas such as web communication, web design, and video journalism. According to Apple, the courses come complete with 10 days of hands-on training, plus a year of mentoring and support.

LearnStar, a provider of interactive educational software programs, debuted its ESL and GEDstar products during NECC. According to the company, ESL is a software program designed to emphasize vocabulary, grammar skills, listening, reading comprehension, and cultural knowledge for students learning English as a second language, while GEDstar is a preparatory solution that helps kids study for the GED exam. All of LearnStar’s products are designed to function on a variety of operating platforms, including desktops, laptops, and wireless handhelds.

Riverdeep Interactive Learning announced that IBM’s Learning Village, an educational portal that grew out of IBM’s $70 million Reinventing Education grant program, now is a part of the Riverdeep family of products. It will be jointly marketed and sold by the two companies and will be known as Riverdeep Learning Village. An instructional portal that provides a single point of access for K-12 educators, students, and their parents and offers tools that improve teaching and facilitate school improvement, Riverdeep Learning Village combines the strengths of both companies: IBM’s technology integration and services expertise and Riverdeep’s K-12 curriculum.

SMART Technologies demonstrated a host of new presentation products for schools, including a whiteboard camera system called Camfire, a projector mount called LightRaise, concept-mapping software called SMART Ideas, version 3.0 of its SynchronEyes computer-lab instruction software, and Video Player, a new feature that enables users of any SMART Board interactive whiteboard to annotate over moving or paused video. The company also announced a donation of more than $300,000 in interactive classroom technology to support the Intel Teach to the Future program in North America, as well as a new curriculum development service that helps teachers incorporate its products into the classroom.

Sunburst Technology announced three additions to its Learn About Science software for schools. The new curricula were added to broaden the scope of age-appropriate science content offered to students in grades K-2. “The Human Body” focuses on human organs and anatomy, while “Animals” deals with the habitats and classification systems of living creatures. “Dinosaurs” returns kids to prehistoric times for lessons on the life, extinction, and subsequent research of the species.

Encyclopedia publisher World Book Inc. announced the new World Book Research Libraries, a fully online database containing more that 4,700 complete books and 174,000 documents, with more on the way. A “QuickFind” option allows users to type in keywords and find documents that are germane to specific topics of interest. Results also can be found by title, author, and date. The databases include information on a number of different subject areas, including world and U.S. history, political science and law, social studies, literature, science and mathematics, language arts, philosophy, and religion.

Related links:
NECC 2002 Presenter Handouts


SAT essay requirement spotlights writing-assessment tools

When The College Board—distributor of several national standardized tests—announced June 27 that its Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) would include a handwritten essay by March 2005, improved writing instruction moved up on the test-preparation agenda for schools from coast to coast.

Although some educators remain skeptical, companies such as Vantage Learning Inc. of Yardley, Pa., report they have just what educators are looking for to help ease the burden of grading student essays by hand. In May, Vantage was selected to provide writing-assessment and development services to some of Massachusetts’ largest school districts.

The pilot program enables approximately 2,000 students in grades 10 and 11 in Boston, Springfield, Worcester, and Southern Berkshire Regional school districts to practice their writing online and receive immediate feedback.

Scott Elliot, chief operating officer for Vantage, said the inclusion of an essay question on the SAT will highlight the need for improved writing instruction in the classroom.

“It underscores the importance of writing, and that is really going to apply downward pressure on middle and high schools to teach these skills,” Elliot said.

One possible solution: Vantage’s My Access!. This online writing-development tool employs the company’s IntelliMetric essay-scoring technology to assess how well students are answering written questions. It also provides a portfolio that enables users to update their work, while letting teachers monitor student progress more easily.

IntelliMetric (see “Pennsylvania tests essay-grading software,” January 2001) works by learning the pattern of several hundred essay scores. Once a pattern is recognized, the application is able to match individual student essays to that pattern, providing instant feedback on grammar, content, style, and structure, Vantage said.

According to Elliot, the product can drastically reduce the cost of grading tests. Machines can do the job in less time and for less money than humans can, he said: “There is dramatic cost savings to be had.”

Besides Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, three other states—California, Oregon, and Texas—have used the company’s My Access! product, including the IntelliMetric essay-grading tool, on a pilot basis.

In Pennsylvania, educators confirmed the IntelliMetric tool was an effective way to cut costs.

“It is cost-effective,” said Beth Gaydos, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education. “Being able to use the software actually cuts the cost of test-grading in half.”

But Pennsylvania has no plans to enter into a long-term contract with Vantage, Gaydos added. The initial contract expired last January.

Although the technology proved effective for technical writing errors such as spelling and grammar mistakes, Gaydos said, it was unable to adjust to the various writing styles of different students. “There are just some things only a teacher can pick up,” she said.

But there is a more basic obstacle to adopting the technology throughout the state, Gaydos explained. Implementing Vantage’s system effectively on a statewide basis is not feasible for Pennsylvania schools, she said, because to do so would require more computers than the schools could afford.

“It would almost require every classroom to have a computer for every student,” she said.

Educators who spoke with eSchool News said they were encouraged by the addition of an essay question on the SAT. But many remained skeptical of the potential for machine markers to aid teachers in the scoring of written exams. Some maintained it is impossible for machines to provide balanced literary criticism and feedback, two elements essential for effective critiques.

“I am pleased to learn that there will be an essay. I believe it will make the SAT more valuable and a better measure of probable college success,” said Raymond Yeagley, superintendent of the Rochester, N.H., Public Schools and an expert on student information systems.

But Yeagley has his doubts about essay-grading technology: “I would be suspicious of the quality of scoring. The software may be good at checking against rules. However, I doubt that the software would be able to judge content or pick up on the times when a departure from standard rules will create a subtle impact on the meaning or impression of a phrase.”

Marc Liebman, superintendent of the Marysville, Calif., Joint Unified School District, shares his New Hampshire colleague’s reservations about essay-grading software.

“There are programs that pick out words and phrases to assess whether or not a written document is on task. There are programs that will evaluate grammar,” he said. “But neither of these is comprehensive enough, nor has the intelligence to subjectively evaluate the author’s thinking, organization, or writing skills. This is a task that needs the human touch to be accurately evaluated.”

Such cautionary attitudes notwithstanding, The College Board now incorporates IntelliMetric technology in programs designed for use in higher education. The assessment system is at the heart of The College Board’s ACCUPLACER Online service, a placement- testing program for incoming college students. It is used in Writeplacer Plus and in the new Writerplacer ESL, unveiled June 27, for assessing writing skills among students who use English as a second language.

According to Elliot, technology from his company already assesses more than 4 million students per year.

IntelliMetric won’t be used to grade the revised SAT, according to The College Board, because the technology does not work on handwritten assignments.

According to Wayne Camara, vice president of research for The College Board, the essays will be graded by certified teachers and educators, who will be allowed to access the handwritten essays from their desktops at home. The handwritten tests will be scanned into a computer and made accessible over the internet, he said.

The human graders will be expected to evaluate more than 3 million essays during the first year of full-scale implementation.

“The increased importance of solid writing skills is going to put more emphasis on writing instruction,” Elliot said. “The criticality of writing is increasing.”

Related links:
Marysville Joint Unified School District

Rochester Public Schools

The College Board


Writerplacer Plus Electronic


‘Deep-linking’ flap threatens direct links to web content

Educators should be aware of a brewing controversy that soon could limit how they are allowed to connect students to news articles and other copyrighted materials over the internet: Some online publishers, angry about the practice of “deep-linking” to their web sites, have begun threatening legal action against users of the tactic, calling it a violation of U.S. copyright law.

This so-called deep-linking occurs whenever a teacher or some other person provides a web link that bypasses another site’s home page and goes directly to a specific article deep within that internet site. Many teachers say they often supply their students with deep links, because it is the most time-efficient way to guarantee that children safely reach the content that pertains to their lessons.

“In the precious time we have with them, we like to guide students to the most appropriate resources for specific projects. We hope that deep-linking will continue to be an acceptable way of guiding students to information pre-selected by educators for them,” said Nancy Messmer, director of library media and technology for the Bellingham, Wash., Public Schools.

Despite Messmer’s hopes, the legal future of deep-linking remains in flux as lawyers, internet users, and online publishers debate whether deep-linking infringes on the rights of web site owners and content providers. Opponents of deep-linking argue that it costs sites in valuable advertising revenue if visitors are not required to visit the home page first.

A number of cases are cropping up in which online publishers and content providers have sought to prohibit deep-linking to their sites.

Recently, the Dallas Morning News voiced displeasure with deep links to its site from by way of an angry letter to the smaller, Texas-based news organization. The letter asked that “cease and desist” what it called “an unauthorized use of content.”

Rodale—which publishes Runner’s World, Backpacker, Bicycling, and Men’s Health magazines, among others—lodged a similar complaint against Most of that site’s content is composed of deep links to articles from publications across the nation. In response to the Rodale’s complaint, has removed its link to a Rodale-owned article. The site’s masthead now reads: “ Where we have no legal team.”

In both of these cases, of course, the offenders were competitors. But the question remains whether it’s possible to draw a legal line between who is allowed to deep link to a particular site and who is not.

Intellectual property lawyer Harvey Jacobs said that fair-use exceptions tend to be broader where education is concerned, because schools do not pose a direct competitive threat to content providers jockeying over ad revenue. He said arguments against deep-linking go against “the general grain” of the internet as a medium for shared information. But Jacobs did not rule out the possibility of a deep-linking ban for educators.

According to Jacobs, property owners have a right to protect what is theirs, even on the web. “The owner of that content can decide to be a bad neighbor,” he said.

A recent ruling by a Danish court has some proponents of deep-linking worried. In its July 5 decision, the Bailiff’s Court of Copenhagen sided with the Danish Newspaper Publishers Association in claiming that Danish company Newsbooster violated copyright laws by deep-linking to articles on some Danish newspapers’ web sites.

Although no legal precedent has been established yet in the United States that would classify deep-linking as a clear violation of copyright, the problem for educators lies in this possibility.

“It would cause some problems, in that internet use in some cases would not be as efficient,” said Bob Moore, executive director of information technology services for the Blue Valley School District in Kansas.

Sandra Becker, director of technology for the Governor Mifflin School District in Pennsylvania, said the very thought of schools losing their ability to deep link was cause for serious concern.

According to Becker, deep-linking is useful because it allows students to bypass certain types of content—including home-page advertising that can, at times, be viewed as offensive and often is blocked by federally mandated web filters in schools.

“Many of the ads [on the home pages of news web sites] deal with sexual materials,” Becker said.

Deep-linking also provides the easiest and most direct route to relevant content for younger web-surfers, who often are overwhelmed by the massive amount of content available to them online, Becker said.

“This will be a major problem for K-12 education if [deep-linking] were deemed a copyright violation,” she said.

Legal experts familiar with intellectual property issues don’t discount the charges leveled by web site owners and content providers. But, they say, there’s a reason for the lack of legal precedent in America: Chances are uncertain at best that a case against deep-linking would hold up in U.S. court.

Randy Lipsitz, a copyright attorney for New York-based Kramer Levin, said he does not think deep links infringe on current U.S. copyright laws. “Copyright protects against copying original works of authorship and claiming them as your own,” he said.

According to Lipsitz, deep links are a means of providing access to the content. That’s different than passing it off as original work.

Lipsitz didn’t rule out the possibility of a future ban on deep-linking. Instead, he described internet law as still evolving.

“The internet is still a new medium of communicating,” he said. “Things that couldn’t be done before are now being done.”

Intellectual property lawyer Jacobs said he expects any lawsuits against deep-linking would encounter several hurdles. But he sees two possible strategies for those who would challenge the practice in court: First, that deep-linking is a form of trespassing. It could be argued that web site owners have a right to control how people gain access to their sites in much the same way homeowners can control how people gain access to their homes, Jacobs said.

The second charge—and a more plausible argument, according to Jacobs—would be that visitors who enter a site by way of a deep link cannot knowingly agree to the terms and conditions of that site, which normally are listed on the home page.

Challengers “would argue that visitors came in through the side door instead of through the front door, where messages were posted,” Jacobs said.

Many legal experts agree that, even if the right to deep-link is preserved in court, content providers still have the ability to reroute visitors—including students— unwillingly to the home page of their web sites.

According to Lipsitz, when a user clicks on a web link, the receiving site can identify where the user is coming from. If the receiving site does not recognize the referring web address, there is technology available to redirect visitors to the site’s home page.

Lipsitz said that if web owners are concerned that potential visitors might miss out on home page banners and advertising, “all they’d have to do is just turn that technology on.”

Anji Stinson, an intellectual property lawyer for McGuire Woods LLP, posed this suggestion for teachers who want to make sure no copyright violation has occurred: Always ask permission from the web site owner before directing students to a deep link.

“It’s not much different than seeking a license to reproduce copyrighted material in a course packet. It’s a way to protect yourself,” she said.

From an educator’s point of view, Blue Valley’s Moore offered this advice: “The best way around this [issue] is for the school to subscribe to one of the many periodicals databases that exist. These are a far better way for students and teachers to access online articles from periodicals [than deep-linking].”

Bellingham’s Messmer concluded: “We teach kids about intellectual property and copyright at every turn. We respect the folks who share information and always try to give credit to authors and originators. We would just have to work harder with kids if every information search involved multiple decisions and extra clicks.”

eSchool News Online permits and, indeed, encourages educators to link directly to articles and other information posted on our web site and, in fact, provides a Content Exchange page to make deep-linking to news articles easier.

Related links:
Bellingham Public Schools

Dallas Morning News

eSchool News Content Exchange page


Blue Valley School District

Governor Mifflin School District


Indiana libraries fight to preserve free web access

Indiana Gov. Frank O’Bannon’s budget cuts are threatening to eliminate funding for the free internet access offered by libraries, schools, and universities throughout the state.

When O’Bannon cut Build Indiana funds earlier this year, he eliminated $3 million in technology funding, half of which provides internet service to libraries, schools, and universities. The remainder of the money funds INSPIRE, a program that offers access to 17 reference databases, including encyclopedias and news articles.

Without the internet arrangement, libraries and schools would spend about $10 million statewide for the services now bought in bulk for $1.5 million.

“I’m not even sure they realize what they’ve done,” said Martha Roblee, who handles library and network development for the Indiana State Library. “People were more focused on direct grants to cities and towns, and they didn’t think about some other line items under Build Indiana.”

The direct impact may not be felt until mid-2003. The lobbying arm for libraries, the Indiana Library Federation, pledges a fight to restore funds in the next session of the Indiana General Assembly.

“None of this has anything to do with the merits of the program,” said lobbyist John Barnett. “It was sort of an across-the-board cutting.”

Small public libraries are likely to be most affected. INSPIRE is provided free now and is administered by the Indiana Cooperative Library Services Authority. A library serving about 5,000 patrons would need $18,000 to buy the same databases.

Representatives of the cooperative are traveling around the state to explain the dilemma to its 780 members, including more than 300 school districts, more than 230 public libraries, and various special libraries and colleges. They are asking those libraries to chip in money that collectively could replace $1.5 million.


Bush administration appeals internet-porn ruling

The Bush administration renewed its legal fight against internet pornography on June 20, asking the Supreme Court to permit Congress to pressure public libraries to block sexually explicit web sites.

In May, a three-judge panel in Philadelphia struck down the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which would have taken effect July 1. The law, signed by President Clinton in 2000, required libraries to install software filters on internet computers or risk the loss of federal funds.

Public schools and school libraries are still subject to the law.

The Justice Department, acting on behalf of the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Sciences, formally notified the Supreme Court that it will appeal the ruling.

The panel from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled unanimously that the law relies on filtering programs that also block sites on politics, health, science, and other topics that should not be suppressed. Its decision was the third time since 1996 that courts have struck down U.S. laws aimed at keeping children from seeing internet pornography.

“Given the crudeness of filtering technology, any technology protection measure mandated by CIPA will necessarily block access to a substantial amount of speech whose suppression serves no legitimate government interest,” the judges wrote.

Under the law, adults could have asked for librarians to turn off the filters. But the court said some patrons might be too embarrassed to ask, and librarians may not know how.

Justice Department lawyers have argued that internet smut is so pervasive that protections are necessary to keep it away from youngsters, and that the law simply calls for libraries to use the same care in selecting online content that they use for books and magazines. They also pointed out that libraries could turn down federal funding if they want to provide unfiltered web access.


Ohio’s new student ID system raises data-security fears

Ohio officials are preparing to assign an identification number to each of the state’s 1.8 million public schoolchildren to improve student-data tracking and boost academic performance. But in spite of state assurances that student data will be protected by the most sophisticated security technology available, the new ID system worries the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, which has asked the state for details on the plan.

The Ohio Department of Education says the Statewide Student Identifier System will be in place this coming school year. The state will use the system to study which programs are effective and which students need extra help, said department spokesman J.C. Benton.

Lawmakers approved the concept of the system two years ago when they overhauled the way the department collects data. The system also will help Ohio comply with the No Child Left Behind Act, signed by President Bush in January.

Last year, after lawmakers revamped Ohio’s proficiency-test systems, school districts began reporting test scores according to a child’s gender and race.

Although the state has received such information in summary form before, this will be the first time officials will have information on individual students, Benton said.

“Really, we’re not collecting anything more than we collect now when Joey starts the first day of kindergarten,” he said.

The department won’t have any personal information on students and will track them only by a number, Benton said.

The system requires schools to collect specific pieces of identifying information, including a student’s name, date of birth, place of birth, ethnicity, and gender. The information then is given to New York-based PwC Consulting, which assigns an identification number for each student.

The education department is paying the firm $1.25 million to manage the program. The company, a division of accounting and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, will not receive any academic information about a child, according to state officials.

The system has “the most advanced security features available” for transmitting and storing information, Benton said.

Nevertheless, the ACLU of Ohio filed a public records request with the education department for all details about the project.

“We’re talking about the government collecting and collating vast amounts of information about students,” said Raymond Vasvari, ACLU legal director. “Once you start collecting data and putting [them] together in ways not generally available without doing the collecting, all sorts of questions arise.”

The school board in Akron, Ohio, decided to provide only the information required this year rather than include additional data—such as a student’s middle name and place of birth—which will be required next year.

“We felt this was information that had never been supplied about a child before, and the child would be able to be tracked,” said district spokeswoman Karen Ingraham. “We’re so sensitive to Ohio privacy laws regarding students, we just wanted to make sure the community did know information about their students would be in someone’s hands.”

Robert Rachor, who directs data collection and analysis for the Toledo, Ohio, city schools, told the Associated Press he supports the goals of the new ID program and believes the proper privacy protection is in place.

“My concern is there is so much data being collected on kids that I worry about the accuracy of the data,” he said. “People don’t have time to check it all.”

Other states are creating similar reporting systems. In Iowa, education officials last month predicted they would need a similar identification number.

Michigan is creating the Michigan Education Information System, although some districts have complained about the time and money they’re spending on the project.

Related links:
Ohio Department of Education

ACLU of Ohio

No Child Left Behind


Microsoft to make ‘Kids Passpport’ more parent-friendly

Microsoft Corp. has agreed to make changes to its Kids Passport service, an online system that seeks to obtain parental consent before allowing web sites to collect and disclose the names, addresses, and online identities of children. The software giant’s decision came after one watchdog agency’s report claimed the company misrepresented itself to parents. eSchool News first broke the story in August 2001.

The Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU), a division of the Better Business Bureau that monitors certain web sites for compliance under its own regulatory guidelines and those imposed by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), said Microsoft should make the changes to better inform parents about the consequences and limitations of using Kids Passport.

An extension of Microsoft’s .NET (“dot-net”) Passport program, Kids Passport is a vehicle for children under 13 to obtain parental consent easily before registering on more than 300 participating web sites, some of which independently collect and disclose personally identifiable information—including eMail addresses, first and last names, mailing addresses, and birth dates.

Microsoft said it developed .NET Passport as a medium for participating sites to exchange personal information, thus allowing visitors to create single user profiles, which would let them log on to any number of sites without having to constantly repeat the registration process.

By extension, Kids Passport allows parents to give their consent just once, and this consent would enable children to log on to all participating sites. Microsoft promotes the service as a way for parents and children’s web site operators to ease the administrative burden of complying with COPPA, which requires parents to give their consent before a web site can collect personally identifiable information from their children.

But according to CARU, Microsoft’s Kids Passport service also gave parents the false impression that it would better protect kids’ privacy online.

For instance, the organization’s critique said Kids Passport was misleading because its advertising content implied that kids who participated in the program would be granted access only to those sites designed specifically with children in mind. CARU, however, said that was not the case.

At the time of its inquiry, CARU found that “none of the 12 sites that were then Kids Passport-participating sites … was designed specifically for children.” According to the report, all of the sites—which the company touted as child-oriented—in fact were general-interest sites. These sites included mainly names from the Microsoft family of online services, including MSN Calendar, MSN Chat, and the company’s free Hotmail eMail service.

Offering children access to such widely used services made it impossible for Microsoft to ensure that children were not revealing the types of personally identifiable information that its Kids Passport had vowed to protect, thus allowing people—possibly predators—to initiate online or offline contact with children. This possibility was not accurately disclosed to parents, CARU said.

Also, the organization complained that the privacy statements of several participating sites, which COPPA requires, either did not exist or were difficult to understand.

In response to CARU’s report, Microsoft has agreed to several major revisions.

First, Microsoft no longer will claim that its product helps protect or control online privacy. The company also has agreed to clear up language concerning the types of sites that are available through the program. Microsoft no longer will tout participating sites as specifically child-oriented and will include some mention of general-interest content.

Microsoft also said it will provide two separate privacy policies, one for its .NET Passport service and one for Kids Passport. The latter will explain that Microsoft does not monitor the privacy policies of participating sites, but merely provides a single location where parents can grant or deny consent for participating sites that collect sensitive information from children.

The changes are expected to be fully implemented by September.

Related links:
Kids Passport

Children’s Advertising Review Unit


Report alleges sexual discrimination in tech-ed programs

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) on June 6 said it would investigate allegations of sexual discrimination in the high school vocational and technology-education programs of 12 states. The statement came immediately after a nationwide report found female students often are discouraged from pursuing higher-paying technology careers.

The report, “Title IX and Equal Opportunity in Vocational and Technical Education: A Promise Still Owed to the Nation’s Young Women,” written by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), states that female students have fewer chances than their male counterparts to participate in “high-technology” programs, such as Cisco Networking Academies.

In light of the 30th anniversary of Title IX—the legislation that prohibits sexual discrimination in all aspects of federally funded education—NWLC has asked ED’s Office for Civil Rights to investigate these and other charges of sexual discrimination in each state where the department has a regional office: Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Washington.

“High school vocational and technical education programs can provide a path to economic independence for many young women and girls. Thirty years after Title IX, it is unconscionable that their dreams and futures are still being shortchanged,” said Marcia Greenberger, NWLC co-president, in a statement.

According to the report, 13 of the 18 career and technical education schools in New York City are segregated by sex. “The schools that are 70 percent or more male offer, on average, 3.89 advanced placement (AP) courses per school, while the vocational schools that are 70 percent or more female average only 1.75 courses per school,” the report said.

Further, of the city’s four predominantly female vocational schools, not one offers any AP classes in computer science, calculus, statistics, biology, chemistry, or physics. These types of programs operate in at least two of the predominantly male vocational schools, the report said.

Five New York City vocational high schools have adopted Cisco Networking Academies. The corporate-sponsored programs are designed to lead to industry certification in computer networking. Of the five schools that participate in the program, according to the report, three are more than 70 percent male and all of them are more than 55 percent male.

Chris Peacock, a spokesman for Cisco Systems Inc., said he was unfamiliar with the study but that the company does not intentionally favor one sex over the other.

“We offer a number of programs encouraging women to enter into the [information technology] job market,” he said.

According to NWLC, however, high-tech education has been and continues to be predominantly a young man’s game.

“The whole technology world has been traditionally dominated by men and [by] stereotypes discouraging women from pursuing these types of careers,” said NWLC spokeswoman Emily Goldberg.

The study said the inequalities it reported about New York City are not unlike those found in a number of states across the nation. Adding importance to these findings is evidence that future earning potential is directly correlated to the amount of high-tech, science, and computer training students receive in vocational programs.

“This sex segregation in the nation’s vocational classrooms—and the relegation of girls to traditionally female programs—has deep impact on the earning power and job prospects of the young women who graduate from the these programs,” the study reported.

Students who take part in Cisco’s program, for example, have the potential to earn from $42,000 to more than $100,000 a year, the report found. Compare this to a median salary of $8.49 an hour for the average cosmetologist, the report said.

The report also alleges instances of discriminatory guidance counseling and sex-based favoritism in the classroom.

Related links:
U.S. Department of Education

National Women’s Law Center

New York City Board of Education


Several states’ data systems found lacking, study says

Several statewide education systems are in danger of failing to meet higher standards for accountability as required by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) come fall, according to a nationwide report released June 18.

Although nearly all states have implemented tests that measure students’ progress toward clearly defined standards, many still lack the infrastructure necessary to deliver results electronically and store them in multiyear databases for purposes of comparison, the report said.

The report is the first in an annual series on “Testing the Testers” issued by The Princeton Review, a company that specializes in preparing students for high-stakes tests.

The firm collected data from every state and the District of Columbia before ranking the testing programs of each. The rankings were based on 25 indicators under four key criteria: alignment with standards, test quality, accessibility of data, and policy or accountability systems.

According to Steve Hodas, executive vice president for strategic development, most states do issue high-quality tests aligned with state standards. But good tests achieve little if states are unable to qualify the results, he said. What’s alarming is the number of states that are unprepared to use test scores effectively to improve instruction.

For example, the study found that many states do not provide educators, parents, and other stakeholders with informative, easily accessible testing information that can be used to achieve continuous improvement, Hodas said. This includes access to electronic databases, which can add accountability to results.

“Policy and openness are the areas where the rubber really hits the road,” he said. “You need to be able to translate the vast amounts of information from these tests into things that you can use. In the past, schools have done almost nothing useful with the data.”

The study found 21 states did not distribute test results broken down by student and teacher to educators electronically, and results often were not compiled in a way that allowed them to be linked to other state or school databases.

It also found that a handful of states do not operate any form of data warehouse where educators, parents, and other stakeholders can turn to monitor testing progress and trends in schools.

Thirty states received only partial scores on this indicator, while five states—Nebraska, New Mexico, Wyoming, Hawaii, and Iowa—scored a zero, meaning they make no such data available or the data are available only for a single year. Full scores were reserved for states that supply multiyear data, including item-response information and student performance figures broken out demographically.

“Data warehouses are important for policy makers to be able to track things over time,” Hodas said. But, he acknowledged, data warehousing does not come easily: “It take a lot of time and thought to create these warehouses and make them accessible.”

What’s more, the study showed that a number of states are a long way from complying with NCLB’s requirement for the disaggregation of test scores.

As early as next year, states and school systems will be held accountable for supplying test data and statistics broken down by different subgroups, including students’ race, gender, and economic status. According to the study, 11 states—Arizona, Maine, Alabama, Florida, Nevada, Tennessee, South Dakota, Wyoming, West Virginia, Hawaii, and Iowa—have no such metric in place. Eighteen states list disaggregated statistics for tests overall but do not list this information for each test question.

Hodas said test-score disaggregation isn’t likely to be included in next year’s study, because all states will have to meet this requirement to receive federal money. Still, he said, it’s surprising how many states have yet to make strides in that direction.

Not all educators agree with The Princeton Review’s assessment. Nebraska, for instance, ranked 39th overall and received no better than an average grade on any single criterion. But Doug Christensen, the state’s education commissioner, said the report gives a false impression that its schools are performing poorly.

“Nebraska is performing well,” he said. “The study makes an unfair presumption that state tests are the most important indicator.”

The Princeton Review responds that its study is meant only to show how well states are performing in relation to standards-based testing. The company said it agrees that a state’s testing procedures aren’t the only indicator of success, but these procedures have become more significant in light of new federal policies.

“Certainly many states were well along the path of developing and refining their own testing schema before this year, but NCLB created both new pressures and new templates for ramping up and systemizing those efforts,” the study said.

Hodas added: “The only way these programs are likely to improve is if you are aware of the flaws.”

Overall, states scored highest on test quality and alignment, the study indicated. The top five testing states overall were North Carolina, Texas, New York, Massachusetts, and Arizona. The worst performing states included Wyoming, Montana, West Virginia, Hawaii, and Iowa.

Related links:
“Testing the Testers 2002: An Annual Ranking of State Accountability Systems”

Nebraska Department of Education