With technology from NCITE
Reading Rainbow, as always, a pioneer
Reading Rainbow, a pioneer in the use of educational television for children, is venturing into a new field with help from NCITE.
    New instructional materials based on two Reading Rainbow books, "Digging up Dinosaurs" and "How To Make an Apple and See the World," feature innovative computer assessment of student performance developed by the National Center for Information Technology in Education at UNL Teachers College.
    The online assessment is imbedded in the Web-based instructional materials, rather than being presented as a separate test. A teacher is able to assess a student's performance - or an entire class' performance - immediately by logging onto a designated Web site.
    Gwen Nugent, director of education at Nebraska Educational Television and research fellow at NCITE, said the assessment piece is vital given today's emphasis on educational accountability.
    "There is a lot of emphasis right now because of new federal legislation on assessment. Suddenly school districts and schools and even teachers are being charged with providing some very definitive evidence that kids are learning," she said. "With this emphasis, districts and teachers are looking for tools to help them develop better ways to know if kids are learning. Online assessment, because basically everything is done by computer - all the data crunching, is an efficient way for a teacher to utilize the instruments and get feedback on how well a student is doing."

Gwen Nugent

    The Reading Rainbow instructional materials are being made available to 75 schools in eight states, including 15 schools in Nebraska. Hartley Elementary School in Lincoln was one of the schools that served as a test pilot for the materials. The Wilber-Clatonia School District in Nebraska already has begun using the materials, which were designed by Nugent and Reading Rainbow staff. Reading Rainbow is a production of the University of Nebraska and WNED-TV.
    Participating schools come from states that have active educational television networks and that make up Bridges, a year-old federal project using media resources to help kids learn to read and write. Other states included are Colorado, Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Maryland and New York.
    The interactive programs features rich visual graphics, audio and animation on instructional levels, each becoming progressively more difficult. The activities are designed for children from kindergarten through fourth grade. Some of the graphics are taken from the Reading Rainbow books and others are brand new. Unique "drag and drop activities" require students to use the computer mouse to drag icons to their correct destinations.
    "We really tried to get the kids involved," Nugent said. "We tried to design it like a game." She is hoping children will respond accordingly with a game-like attitude, saying, "Level three is really hard, but I can beat it."
    The "drag and drop activities" create a very different assessment environment from the more standard paper-and-pencil, multiple-choice tests, Nugent said. The assessment is transparent to the children, and it doesn't separate instruction from testing. She wanted the activities to be engaging for the children so they didn't feel like they were in a test environment.
    While ACT and SAT tests are given online for entering college students, the new Reading Rainbow activities are taking technology a step further as far as assessment for children as young as kindergarten, Nugent said. "For little kids, this is one of the first applications I have been able to find that includes assessment," she said.
    Teachers found the preliminary work with the programs "powerful," especially their ability to call up results immediately after the child had finished the activity, Nugent said, noting that the assessment information would have taken the teacher a long time to collect and score by hand. Each piece is correlated to educational standards. NCITE tracks how well the children progress according to the standards and provides feedback to the children's teachers.

For a glimpse of what the instructional programs are about, check out the Web site for Bridges at http://bridgesprojectonline.org