Monday, March 04, 2002

State exams: Studying with software

Parents develop test help

By Cindy Kranz,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Christie Brown was at a PTA meeting in spring 1996 when samples of the Ohio fourth-grade proficiency test were handed out to parents.

        “We all looked at it and said, "This is really hard,'” she said.

        Mrs. Brown and her husband, Alan, owners of Photonics Graphics Inc. in East Walnut Hills, saw an opportunity to develop educational software to help students prepare for the state-mandated tests.

        Students at hundreds of Ohio schools prepared for this week's Ohio Proficiency Test by using Optimum software, a family of interactive CD-ROMs providing sample tests aligned with Ohio Department of Education standards.

        Students like using the software, said Kathy Donohoue, who runs the library and computer lab at Sayler Park Elementary.

        “It's not a game-y kind of computer software,” she said. “I think it's good because the test is not a game. Somewhere you have to develop the ability to stick with something that isn't fun.”

        The PTA meeting that set the project in motion occurred when the Browns' son, Ben, was in fourth grade at Wilson Elementary in Anderson Township.

        The software was launched in 1997 with a fourth-grade disk. The software family now includes fourth-, sixth- and ninth-grade Ohio tests, plus CD-ROMs customized to Illinois and New Jersey assessment tests.

        “Our product was designed to work to get remedial help before they take the real thing,” Mrs. Brown said. “It's a good indicator of how students will do. Our goal was to make it a mirror of the tests so, after taking it, they felt they had taken the real thing.”

        Test questions were developed and tested by teachers from each of the respective states. The Browns hired Connie West, their son's fourth-grade teacher at the time, to help write questions for the fourth-grade test.

        In the first volume, students had to take the entire test before getting feedback. The second volume is more user-friendly, said Mrs. West, now a school improvement consultant with the Hamilton County Educational Service Center. Students can take the whole test or get feedback after each answer. A tutorial explains answers with voice and on-screen text.

        “It really adds value to the whole disk because these students get an explanation of why that answer is the right answer,” said Mrs. West, a classroom teacher for 29 years.

        The computer grades the sample test, giving teachers a view of each student's strengths and weaknesses.

        The software was tested by students. The Browns' son, now a Turpin High School freshman, was one of the testers when the software was being developed. Mrs. West also tried questions out on her students to ensure she was creating wrong answers that were authentic. “We wanted to make sure these children have to make a choice,” she said.

        The Browns hope to create other products to offer Ohio educators. They're working on an Ohio history software in time for the state's bicentennial in 2003.

        Optimum software is available at Photonics Graphics, (888) 548-4440, ext. 107, or; Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Norwood; and School Time, Blue Ash for $29.95 each.


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