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Test issues no deterrent from books

Online exam problems don’t keep schools from textbooks

– On Monday, Fort Wayne Community Schools ceased using an online ISTEP+ exam made by a company contracted to provide the test to schools throughout the state.

Even though district officials found the connectivity issues with the online test so problematic that they have opted to switch to the paper test, school officials are satisfied with the same provider’s textbooks.

Textbooks, they say, don’t have connectivity issues.

Which is why district officials have no qualms over having bought textbooks from the publishing company McGraw-Hill last year and ordering more this year.

CTB/McGraw-Hill, a division of the company that is not involved in the textbooks, provided the online test.

And textbooks published by McGraw-Hill and Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, divisions of the same company, will make up a relatively small fraction of the district’s book load next year.

The price tag for those books is unknown.

Textbooks in general are produced by a shrinking group of publishers, according to officials at FWCS and other local school districts.

“We pick the best books that will work for our students in the courses we offer,” FWCS spokeswoman Krista Stockman said.

Books and tests

Last year, Fort Wayne Community Schools paid Macmillan/McGraw-Hill a little more than $1.5 million for elementary reading and handwriting textbooks, according to data provided by FWCS.

It’s hard to determine how much the school district will pay the company for textbooks during the next school year because district officials do not have a head count of how many students will be attending schools.

But of the more than 200 textbooks listed – and approved at a meeting last week – for grades six through 12 for English, world language and theater classes throughout the district during the next six years, a little more than 20 are published by divisions of McGraw-Hill.

CTB/McGraw-Hill – which has a four-year, $95 million contract with the Indiana Department of Education to administer the ISTEP+ examination – is the second-largest provider of online assessment tests in the country.

It’s not the only company to experience problems with its testing, either.

Pearson Education Inc., which outpaces McGraw-Hill in textbook sales and is the leading educational publishing company in the nation, had problems in Florida, where it holds a five-year, $254 million contract.

Some textbooks on FWCS’ list for the upcoming years are published by Pearson.

Others are published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, another longtime player in the world of textbooks.

Northwest Allen County Schools has adopted many textbooks published by Pearson, according to Chris Himsel, the district’s superintendent.

About half of East Allen County Schools’ textbooks are published by McGraw-Hill, according to district officials there.

Fewer options

A limited number of companies specializing in educational publishing narrows the choices districts have for buying textbooks.

First, the Indiana Department of Education finalizes a list of standards of what students are expected to learn at each grade level. Then, classroom textbooks and curricula are set by individual school districts.

At Fort Wayne Community Schools, a committee of teachers and parents look over that list and pick out textbooks to adopt, according to officials.

Sometimes textbook companies come in to make presentations to committee members.

The committee does not look at costs as a factor in the books, according to Natalie Brewer, Fort Wayne Community Schools’ curriculum director.

Other districts have similar adoption processes, and sometimes the choice of textbooks is really no choice at all.

“I know there are some subject areas and/or grade levels where only one textbook option exists,” Himsel, the NACS superintendent, said in an email.

“I also know the number of available choices seem to decrease each year as book companies continue to merge and buy out one another,” his email continued.

But while the testing provided by CTB/McGraw-Hill was not up to par for FWCS standards, there is no need to forgo using the company’s textbooks, according to district officials.

“We have not experienced any problems,” Brewer said.