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Education Department to Study Tech. Products

By Andrew Trotter — February 25, 2004 3 min read

The Department of Education has selected 16 computer-based products designed to help teach reading and mathematics for a federal evaluation of their effectiveness.

Mathematica Policy Research Inc., an independent research organization in Princeton, N.J., will conduct the three-year, $10 million study. The Menlo Park, Calif.-based SRI International Inc. will also take part.

Federal officials chose the 16 products, announced Feb. 13, from 163 products that had been submitted by vendors. The list was winnowed down based on recommendations by Mathematica and outside reviewers.

The products—or “interventions,” in the jargon of social science—will be tested in schools during the 2004-05 school year, under conditions that federal officials and the researchers say will be “scientifically rigorous,” as mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act.

Product Picks

Federal officials have selected 16 reading and math products to be tested in schools during the 2004-05 school year. The product names and their companies are below.

Early Reading—Grade 1 Reading Comprehension—
Grade 4
  • Academy of Reading,
    AutoSkill International Inc.
  • Destination Reading, Riverdeep Inc.
  • The Waterford Early Reading Program, Waterford Institute
  • Headsprout, Headsprout Inc.
  • Plato FOCUS, PLATO Learning Inc.
  • Read, Wright, and Type
    Talking Fingers Inc.
  • Academy of Reading*,
    Autoskill International Inc.
  • Read 180, Scholastic Inc.
  • KnowledgeBox, Pearson Digital Learning
  • Leaptrack, Leapfrog Schoolhouse
Pre-Algebra—Grade 6 Algebra—Grade 9
  • Successmaker, Pearson Digital Learning
  • SmartMath,
    Computaught Inc.
  • Achieve Now, PLATO Learning Inc.
  • Larson Pre-Alegbra,
    Meridian Creative Group

  • Cognitive Tutor,
    Carnegie Learning Inc.
  • Algebra, PLATO Learning Inc.
  • Larson Algebra,
    Meridian Creative Group
*Academy of Reading is used for both 1st and 4th grades.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education

“This is the first [major study] to get off the ground that really selects the intervention first—then we’re going to provide a lot of professional development and technical assistance,” said Audrey Pendleton, the senior researcher at the Education Department who is overseeing the project.

The researchers will test the products in classrooms at 120 schools in 40 districts, said Mark Dynarski, the project director at Mathematica.

He said the researchers were still collecting names of interested school districts and planned to have a final lineup by the end of the current school year.

Teachers who volunteer to use the interventions will be assigned specific products and then receive training over the summer. Some teachers will be asked instead to teach in their usual manner without the products or any training and serve as a control group. Up to 7,000 students will be randomly assigned to the classrooms using, or not using, the products during the 2004- 05 school year.

The report on the study will be due in 2006.

‘Prior Evidence’

Products that were chosen all had some “prior evidence” of effectiveness in raising student achievement, Ms. Pendleton said.

“We wanted to include technologies that had some reasonable expectation in finding positive outcomes,” she said.

Some of the 12 vendors whose products were selected might still drop out, depending on the course of negotiations about the terms of participation, said Mr. Dynarski, a senior fellow at Mathematica.

Michael L. Kamil, a professor at Stanford University and an expert in the use of technology in reading instruction, is an adviser to the study. He said it would help address a huge gap in knowledge about what technology works in that subject.

Mr. Kamil noted that the study would address only products that “do specific instruction,” but not tools such as the Internet that “facilitate instruction.”

“Things that do specific instruction are the ones that are easier to study—though still difficult,” he said.

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