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When companies that sell instructional software used to come calling on Reid Lyon, expert on reading instruction and former advisor to President Bush, he played a little game.
Educational software makers may get rebuffed by authorities like Lyon, whose endorsements, companies believed, could lead to governmental stamps of approval, and thus explosive sales.
But not everyone reads bulletins from the Department of Education, or interprets them the same way.
By this time, critics were calling the WWC “the Nothing Works Clearinghouse.” The nickname carries an important double meaning. To compensate for the WWC’s academic outlook and pace, many other organizations, both private and governmental, have developed their own evaluation systems to help schools navigate the dizzying array of curricular products on the market today. The IES has since 2003 been working on its own evaluation of educational software, through “gold standard” methods of scientific research. All of which raises a very large and thorny question: What really does happen, on the ground, inside the schools, when research spin and marketing hype collide with desperate classrooms? Among the many electronic products that schools buy, the most visible have been those geared toward reading. This plethora of options—and money—has produced an abundance of new marketing opportunities for software companies. Consider the story of Waterford Early Reading, distributed by Pearson Digital Learning. So what could be known about products like Waterford if government evaluators chose to look into and report on the daily experiences of teachers and students?
Several years later, the district’s own evaluation unit pronounced the program a failure. After failing to change the district’s opinion, Pearson prepared a preliminary evaluation of its own—a “briefing packet” for Superintendent Romer, full of numbers indicating that Waterford was producing dramatic achievement gains.
In the following months, Pearson continued to generate numbers indicating success, but the data drew from problematic sources.
Before Los Angeles invested in Waterford, there were plenty of signs that the program might not work quite as the company promised. To researchers, however, Ephraim’s way of thinking can make an instruction method look like it’s working when it’s not.
Other commercial packages, both computerized and traditional, have not fared much better. Although Waterford has yet to be reviewed by the WWC, it has been treated to four evaluations published in peer-reviewed journals.
The next two studies—a 2004 evaluation in the Journal of Literacy Research (JLR), the publication of the National Reading Conference, and a 2005 article in Reading & Writing Quarterly—were both positive. These varied interpretations illustrate yet another lesson: Experts don’t all agree on what constitutes good research.
Linek is partly right to complain about the current obsession with measurable data, which is a double-edged sword.
Linek’s first point raises an even more important question: What’s wrong with turning students into guinea pigs, anyway? While the research community debates such questions, the commercial sector has felt free to devise its own interpretations.
If the education world has been living in a kind of scientific denial, that era may be fast drawing to a close. It is a sad dilemna this country faces, as we see falling literacy scores every year…and more and more money is spent on computer-based curriculum and supplemental software. We at SanJae have rigorous and independent scientifically-based research on a computer-based literacy program that was developed decades ago at IBM and has been updated and tested regularly. Slideshare uses cookies to improve functionality and performance, and to provide you with relevant advertising. This list is updated daily, so you will always get the current updated rank & market report.
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Recortar slides e uma maneira facil de colecionar slides importantes para acessar mais tarde. First, he listened politely to the sales reps’ enthusiastic pitches and colorful demonstrations of how computer software can build reading skills in new ways.
But they usually get warmer receptions in the offices of the nation’s school superintendents, who are, after all, their primary customers.
Purveyors of education products of all kinds make claims that they’re based on scientific proof, and thus “aligned” to federal requirements. This was to be done primarily through a project funded by the IES called the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC). To some, it’s another example of governmental blockheadedness—specifically, that understanding how teaching and learning work in the real world is beyond the skill of a federal agency.

The ambitious $15 million study, due sometime early in 2007, has some peculiar characteristics. First, the basic question about software’s general effectiveness has long been answered: as a whole, it works no better than cheaper traditional materials. To be included in the study, companies had to donate software for 132 schools and teacher training. Building up the nation’s reading skills was of course the main impetus behind No Child Left Behind. Strangely, one of the richest of those is NCLB’s scientifically based research requirement. Pearson is the nation’s leading seller of educational software, and its Waterford program is used in 13,000 classrooms in all 50 states.
One particular school district, Los Angeles Unified (LAUSD), has a long and remarkably troubled history with this product. It requires students to spend 15 to 30 minutes a day with various multimedia exercises, and costs $200 to $500 per student. Pearson and other supporters of the program argued that Waterford’s effectiveness was compromised by the fact that teachers didn’t fully use the product—and when they did, they often used it incorrectly.
And what lessons do Waterford’s rise and partial fall in Los Angeles offer education policymakers, not only in other states but also in Washington?
Many curriculum producers started promoting their “scientific” research very soon after NCLB required it—an impossible feat, considering the many years it takes to conduct solid scientific studies.
In Waterford’s case in Los Angeles, Julie Slayton, an analyst in LAUSD’s Program Evaluation and Research Branch and one of the authors of the Waterford evaluations, says Pearson did not try to tilt the evaluators’ basic data, “but they did their best to make the report come out favorably. For years, Pearson, like many companies, had been gathering studies that offered evidence of Waterford’s effectiveness. One reason is that researchers who evaluate classroom exercises and educators who work inside those classrooms represent two often conflicting cultures—this is lesson Number Two.
All too often, some other environmental factor is driving the improvement; sometimes, in fact, the gains are just normal growth associated with getting older. One such example is Renaissance Learning, Inc., whose lead product, Accelerated Reader (AR), is used in more than half the nation’s public schools.
In the What Works Clearinghouse ratings, not a single product has more than one study fully meeting WWC research standards.
The first was a 2002 study in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, which found Waterford to be helpful in only one of nine areas the researchers tested.
As an example, Wayne Linek, professor of education at Texas A&M University, in Commerce, Texas, and co-editor of the JLR, finds Lyon’s view too narrow. On the one hand, the data are critical—they allow other researchers to replicate the original study’s findings, or take them further. Andy Myers, chief operations officer for Pearson Digital Learning, takes a sunny view of Waterford’s scientific grounding. At this point, the advocates of classic, quantitative science clearly have the ear of the Bush administration. If you just want to showcase your books only, disable the shopping cart and if you need to sell your books online , enable shopping features with online payment options .
A good many trot out studies, sometimes great numbers of them, that appear to have followed one or more steps that are hallmarks of gold standard scientific research. Created in 2002, the WWC gathered a team of top-flight research experts whose mission was to review studies done on a range of instructional packages—both traditional and electronic—and rate the quality of their achievement data (see Figure 1). To others, including many leaders in the research community, the message is actually more harsh. IES did not begin by selecting the most popular products, but instead asked software producers to volunteer; it then chose 15 products from among those that did. In return, they get two important gifts: a free study, complete with a federal stamp of approval, and the study’s individual evaluations.
Today, schools can pick from a cornucopia of federally funded initiatives in this domain. Conceived as a strict rule with clear methodological standards, it has instead become a versatile tool—a Cuisinart for raw statistics, ideal for marketing hustle and deception. The WWC has not yet evaluated Waterford, but it is one of the 15 products that IES has elected to study. In July of 2001, LAUSD decided to spend nearly $50 million on Waterford, instantly making itself the company’s largest customer.
In launching the program, Roy Romer, then LAUSD superintendent, said this “is like putting a turbocharger in a car engine.
They tried to make it focus on implementation instead of effectiveness.” In other words, Pearson wanted the question to be about the district’s wobbly use of Waterford—not whether the program itself inherently worked. In a memorandum dated May 8, 2002, he urged Pearson to spell out “the methodological limitations” of its studies. But various independent evaluators had pointed out that the bulk of these studies have methodological problems (lack of control groups, small sample sizes, missing information, numbers based on subjective survey data, and so forth). As an illustration, when Ronni Ephraim, the district’s chief instruction officer, was asked if she had looked at the research on Waterford before supporting its use in LAUSD, she said she had not, largely because it did not seem relevant.

Renaissance has built such a following behind AR that it regularly holds massive annual conferences that feel like religious revival meetings. The second, in 2003, was a mixed evaluation in Reading Research Quarterly, the journal of the International Reading Association. True experimental designs that compare treatment groups to untreated “control” groups can turn students into “guinea pigs,” which Linek considers unethical. On the other hand, any study that looks for data in obscure factors like eye movements can be justly criticized for missing the main event, despite the fact that it qualifies for publication in any number of relatively credible journals. If mistakes are going to be made, isn’t it more humane to make them with a small number of test subjects than with the general population?
President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) famously requires that any instructional materials supported by federal aid be proven to work through “scientifically based research.” Unfortunately, scientific proof is defined in many ways.
A select few software programs (such as Cognitive Tutor, an unusually sophisticated math program, and Fast ForWord, a language program) have gone through at least some careful vetting. After four years and an expenditure of $23 million, the WWC had evaluated studies on only 32 products.
It is that most new classroom gimmicks don’t add much of value, and studies packaged to suggest otherwise are to be treated with great suspicion.
And while the evaluation methods of IES appear to have been exacting, the study will answer nothing more than the most general question: Does educational software, as a class, tend to work? Covering 355 different studies done since the early 1900s, the book was titled, aptly, The No Significant Difference Phenomenon.) The more precise answer is, it depends on which software you’re using, with what ages, and in what circumstances. Companies can package and spin those evaluations however they like, since no one besides IES will have those details. It has not helped matters that, as with many laws, it is beyond the ability of those it affects most to understand its crucial details; nor did the law’s creators endow it with any sort of enforcement system.
Some involved the California English Language Development Test (CELDT), which is meant only for non-English speakers and tests advanced literacy skills that Waterford doesn’t directly teach. Testimonials at these conferences are typically adorned with lengthy, seemingly solid studies proving AR’s power.
It should be noted, however, that good research is not a quick sign of product effectiveness.
Here in this article we are listing Top 10 Best Selling Internet Security Software (Antivirus & Security). While the WWC itself earned good ratings for the rigor of its work, plenty of people were frustrated with how little was getting done—and how few studies met the agency’s standards. But if you are a teacher or administrator trying to make a shopping decision, “this [study] isn’t going to help you,” admits the IES study’s lead researcher, Mark Dynarski of Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., in Princeton, New Jersey. The district has since scaled back the Waterford program, using it as more of a sideline specifically for students with learning difficulties. As Lyon puts it, claims “are based on any kind of document—whether it’s an unpublished technical manual, an opinion piece, or an editorial.
That’s because truly scientific research is extremely difficult, time-consuming, and costly—and thus very rare—which is precisely why the WWC has found so few studies to be satisfactory.
That study found that while Fast ForWord was effective with language development, it was ineffective with reading achievement. Eventually, a complete list of governmentally approved product ratings will be just a mouse click away. While sales personnel have have been among the earliest adopters of new technologies such as mobile phones, laptops, PDAs, tablets, etc, the problem has been the lack of integration of these into a single functioning sales system. But it also means that the district is getting a lot less for its $50 million than it planned on. That’s the punch line,” explains Tracy Gray, an expert on educational technology with American Institutes for Research.
So the study’s praise for Waterford rests on one small group: 12 low-performing 1st graders who did not use Waterford. That means that someday, it will be easy for the marketplace—namely, district superintendents and their purchasing agents—to embrace high scientific standards.
In fact, these technologies have served to further hinder the development of an integrated sales system by encouraging salesmen to devise their own standalone systems based on the tools available to them in their kit bag. To the average administrator, the sensations of success or failure inside your own classrooms are going to feel a lot more relevant than abstract statistics drawn from schools on the other side of the country.
When that time comes, the spoils won’t go to companies that have busied themselves ginning up studies full of tilted numbers. Is it any wonder, then, that NCLB’s scientific research requirements have been so widely ignored? The victors will instead be those who practice true R&D—that is, companies that dare to use these intervening years of confusion to subject their materials to research that is both rigorous and independent.

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