A director of math and computer science instruction for the San Francisco schools calls for curriculum and assessment in the COVID era that address a broad array of students’ needs.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is one of many companies across the K-12 market that has sought to create products to help districts address academic remediation for students who have fallen behind during COVID.
Pre-K-12 instructional materials are just one slice of a publishing industry that broadly thrived over the past year.
Data released last week by the Association of American Publishers show that sales of educational instructional materials in March more than doubled, year over year.
Overall educational revenues for instructional materials climbed by $111.7 million, while revenues for pre-K-12 resources reached $61.4 million in March — an 82 percent jump over a year ago.
Sales of higher education course materials rose even more sharply, reaching $50.4 million in March, a 179 percent increase over the previous year.
Education publishers’ gains over the past year have come at a time when public and private investment in education markets has soared. Federal lawmakers have approved three different stimulus measures, the most recent of which will channel $130 million into K-12 education. Venture capitalists poured $16.1 billion total into ed tech in 2020, $7.9 billion more than the previous record set in 2018.
One factor driving the increases in education publishers’ revenues: Two of the three largest state markets for vendors in terms of student population – Texas and Florida – purchased significantly more instructional materials this March than a year ago, according to AAP’s PreK-12 Books & Materials Monthly Report for March 2021.
Florida and Texas K-12 leaders bought $8.5 million and $2.3 million worth of pedagogical materials, respectively, showing increases of 331 percent and 137 percent over March 2020.
On the other hand, sales of instructional materials in California, the state with the largest K-12 population, dropped from $6.1 million to $3.9 million.
In addition to higher monthly sales, Florida also generated a sizable increase in revenues for instructional materials across the full years of 2019 and 2020, growing from $6.9 million to $11.4 million. During the same period, annual sales for California fell from $12.1 million to $10.1 million, and yearly sales for Texas declined from $7.8 million to $7.2 million.
The educational sales data account for materials covering reading and language arts, science, social studies, math, English as a second language, career and technical education, as well as miscellaneous other subject areas.
Other segments of the publishing industry have also seen their revenues increase over the past year. Consumer books grossed $743.9 million in March, a 34.2-percent increase year-over-year, while professional books generated $33.1 million, a 33.2-percent gain.
AAP released the information based on questionnaires they sent to publishers, the group said. The monthly reports draw revenue data from approximately 1,300 publishers.
Publishing sales for this year are more comparable to 2017-2019 levels than to industry revenues last year, which was a “tough” time for the industry, AAP said.
School buildings across the U.S. started closing in March 2020 amid the initial onslaught of COVID-19, forcing districts to quickly pivot away from traditional instructional methods and swiftly reprioritize their spending.
Though the publishing industry posted striking growth rates in March, the industry typically sees stronger performance over the summer, and so the next few months will provide a better indicator of the sector’s resilience, according to the AAP.
Businesses in the education market face new and unfamiliar obstacles in delivering product support and professional development that spans remote, hybrid, and in-person learning environments.
The EdTech Genome Project aims to give districts more accurate, granular comparisons of what ed-tech products work in what kinds of schools.
School systems are expected to have broad latitude to spend money from the American Rescue Plan on classroom and non-academic needs.
The future of the science education is likely to be blend of hands-on and digital components, predicts Christine Anne Royce, the past president of the National Science Teaching Association.
The Biden administration’s recent guidance for how states should carry out federally mandated tests is likely to have implications for the testing industry, potentially affecting everything from the work required to design the exams to scheduling them to companies’ bottom lines.
In a letter to states, the U.S. Department of Education this week informed states that they won’t be allowed to cancel federally mandated standardized exams this school year — unlike last spring, when they were given the right to shelve end-of-year exams.
But the agency gave states the right to propose shortened versions of state exams in English/language arts, math, and science, and is allowing them to delay the assessments, potentially even until next school year.
Typically, test scoring is done over a three-week time period, but a longer testing window increases the chances that the process becomes less efficient, which could raise test providers’ costs, said Barry Topol, managing partner of Assessment Solutions Group. His organization provides assessment cost, management and state accountability systems analysis and consulting to states and other entities.
“The big costs of scoring are the variable costs of monitoring those [test] raters and readers, and training them and having them score,” he said in an interview with EdWeek Market Brief.
Though the department’s letter to states said it won’t invite state requests for blanket waivers of assessments akin to the broad waivers issued by the department last spring, the agency did say it will allow states to seek waivers from federal requirements for school accountability, which would include a waiver from the requirement that states test 95 percent of eligible students, as my Education Week colleagues reported Monday.
And despite the department’s decision to not invite applications for broad assessment waivers, states could still seek them.
For instance, Pennsylvania state lawmakers on Wednesday asked the Biden administration to waive assessment requirements this year because of the pandemic.
Reworking State Contracts
If states take advantage of the administration’s permission to delay this year’s assessments, that could increase logistical and hiring costs for assessment providers.
Asked whether longer testing windows would make it more difficult to efficiently hire test scorers for this cycle, Cambium Assessment President Steve Kromer said the scenario is one that the company can adapt to meet. Scorers are generally receptive, he said, to offers to extend their contracts if necessary.
Cambium Assessment currently has 27 different contracts with states for summative types of assessments, and provides mostly computer-based tests, he said.
As there were last year, there could be contract renegotiations between Cambium and its customers as these states explore the possibilities of delaying or modifying aspects of this year’s tests, Kromer said.
“We would need to understand what the impact of a change would be, in terms of how we adjust our capacity based on our anticipated volumes of helpdesk calls and volumes of computer-based tests,” Kromer said. “We’re going to — as any business — look at adjustments to our capacity.”
If assessment providers are administering tests remotely, an extended test window could place additional cost burdens by requiring extensions of leases for test facilities and computers, Topol said.
On the other hand, if states desire shorter assessments, it could challenge companies to quickly compress the length of these exams while still ensuring the tests are still robust, Topol said.
“One way to do it would be to eliminate those constructed response items, but then you’ve got some issues with are you providing adequate content coverage?” he said. “The later in the school year… that you do that, the faster the vendors have to respond, the more expensive it is, and the more you introduce more chances for human error somewhere in the process.”
Cambium Assessment’s revenue took a hit when standardized tests were canceled last year. The company could sustain some revenue impacts this cycle as well, potentially associated with longer testing windows and modifying test structures, Kromer said.
But other costs could fall, Kromer said.
“You may not have to pay the cost to have [physical test books] taken to one of the states and have all those test books delivered and pick them back up,” he said. “There are costs that would go away.”
San Diego’s school district has steered clear of diagnostic testing in favor of just-in-time learning focused on addressing student weaknesses, says Aly Martinez, a top math instructional coordinator.