SuccessMaker, now owned by Pearson, originated at Stanford University in the late 1960s with work led by Dr. Patrick Suppes, a pioneer in research-based computer-aided design. IBM partnered with Stanford to create the early adaptive program based on research. It became operation in 1964 with six student stations and provided elementary math and language arts instructions. As a student moved through the material, an algorithm calculated the probability that the student would be successful on upcoming problems and adjusted the student’s path accordingly. Students who lagged in particular skills consequently received swift remedial assistance.
In 1967 the Computer Curriculum Corp. (CCC) was formed to market the computer-assisted instruction program. In 1990, Simon & Schuster acquired CCC (reportedly for $60+ million) and in 1994, introduced the program as SuccessMaker to schools throughout the U.K. Since then, Pearson has remade SuccessMaker to be the core of the company’s digital learning portfolio. (See EdSurge's Pearson company report for more details.) It is tightly aligned with state and Common Core standards.
How it's used
SuccessMaker is a supplemental program that offers approximately 43 hours of instruction per grade of state and Common Core standards-based reading, language arts, and math curriculum to pre-K to 8th grade students. Embedded tools in the program adapt it for use with English as a Second Language (ESL) learners. SuccessMaker creates an individualized adaptive path through the curriculum for each student.
Collecting and analyzing student performance data has driven Pearson’s development of SuccessMaker, says Chris Dragon, President of Pearson Digital Learning.
In a classroom, teachers first use SuccessMaker to give students an initial assessment that will help them identify which students need extra work on specific skill areas. SuccessMaker includes 6,104 distinct learning objectives, which have been mapped to prerequisite skills.
Once the system has established a path for students, they can do the work largely independently. Typically the way the program is used, it adjusts a student’s path automatically, directing him or her back to prerequisite skills when they struggle with topics. Teachers can intervene and put the student on a different track, however.
Creating that kind of “adaptive” path is easier in math than in literacy, says Dragon. “We don’t want to alienate the teacher from using rich data to do intervention,” he says. Data is presented in dashboards, and skills flagged green, red or yellow.
Pearson recommends that most students will benefit from using SuccessMaker by doing several 15 to 20 minute sessions every week in the subject of focus (ie: math or reading). The company estimates that students need to spend an average of 20 to 30 hours on each program to achieve a year’s worth of growth in that area.
What material is presented?
SuccessMaker includes both math and English curriculum for grades K through 8. Developers have analyzed state standards, Common Core and state additions to the Common Core to create lists of essential skills for each grade level. In literacy, SuccessMaker also builds on the work of the National Institute for Literacy and a host of additional, well-regarded literacy sources. Here is a detailed reference guide to SuccessMaker’s reading program. SuccessMaker’s math program is based on National Council of Teachers of Mathematics standards, along with state and Common Core standards. It is organized along the following lines of instruction: Data Analysis, Geometry, Measurement, Number Sense & Operations, Patterns, Algebra and Functions, Probablity and Discrete Mathematics, and Fluency for Speed Games. Here is a detailed guide to SuccessMaker’s math program.
Pearson has poured significant effort into improving how the product engages students since 2009 or so, Dragon said in an interview. The reading program was redesigned a few years earlier, he added. “We’ve learned you can’t confuse engagement with entertainment,” Dragon noted. A decade ago, much of what students saw on a screen was little more than “eye candy” that distracted students from learning, he said. Increasingly Pearson uses the same techniques for measuring engagement that marketing organizations and others use, including monitoring a student’s eye movements as they look at screen.
In February 2010, Pearson opened its iDEA Innovation Center, a digital laboratory in Chandler, AZ, focused on design, usability and efficacy testing. Current and prospective customers can visit to see how the programs work and provide feedback. The center also undertakes randomized control trials on the effectiveness of different interventions.
How it assesses students
SuccessMaker lets teachers track student progress on an integrated dashboard that lets them see individual performance data as well as results for their whole class and subgroups . In April 2011 Pearson purchased SchoolNet. The company plans to use SchoolNet as a framework or spine that will interconnect both assessment data and professional development support.
A number of reports can be created and printed from SuccessMaker and exported as .csv files that can be imported into Excel.
How much does it cost?
All SuccessMaker licenses include some maintenance, support and access to updates of the version of the program. There are two kinds: perpetual licenses and subscription licenses. Perpetual licenses are similar to those offered in the enterprise software business, which include regular updates of the software released over the course of the year. Users pay once and can then use the software for several years. In order to use new releases of the software, they have to purchase a new license.
A single concurrent, perpetual license of the software runs about $1,000 to $1,200 and, as a concurrent license, will serve eight to 10 students per day on average. It’s fairly common for perpetual license customers to use their licenses for five years or more before moving to a new version. Upgrading to the latest version of the program costs around $400 per license.
Subscription licenses allows schools to access a program for a year. The program can even be delivered completely online with secure hosting from Pearson.
How does the company train and support teachers?
“For Pearson, every SuccessMaker implementation is more than a software purchase. It's about long-term relationship,” Dragon says. A study of a pilot implementation in Village Charter School in Trenton, N.J., in 2010-2011 found that professional development is a strong feature of Pearson’s work.
Pearson offers professional development in many forms including online self-help chat boards (free) and one-on-one consulting services (for a fee). For districts that lack IT support, Pearson has the manpower to install the software (again, for a fee).
Districts can deploy SuccessMaker (and the resulting student data) locally on their own server or contract to have Pearson host the software. A single-server implementation in the district local-deployment model supports up to 3,000 concurrent users and can easily be scaled to support more users. However, a low bandwidth connection between individual schools sites and the district data center may require additional hardware.
Buts, Ands, Ors
A June 2011 report by Tech & Learning magazine on the SuccessMaker implementation in New Jersey concluded: “Improved scores recorded by the SuccessMaker program do not automatically correlate to improved test scores on standardized tests. The only way this, or any other, technology is going to work is if the entire school culture embraces it.” Tech & Learning editor Kevin Logan says his review was completely independent.
In New York City's iZone, teachers using SuccessMaker during the 2010-2011 year found that their students did not score as high on state Regents' exams as expected, given the students' performance on SuccessMaker. A representative for the company writes: "We wanted to clarify that the lagging scores are a symptom of some changes to New York’s benchmark assessment that are impacting a very large number of New York schools." New York changed both the tests and some ways the statistics around Average Yearly Performance. As a result: "Given the confounding influence of the testing changes, we are unable to draw a sound correlation between program use and testing outcomes at this time," Pearson reports.
A new release due out in summer 2012 will extend SuccessMaker’s reading content through high school. The company offers one app, “SuccessMaker Speed Games,” that can be downloaded through the Apple apps store.
Schools and results
SuccessMaker has been used by approximately 2 million students around the world. Pearson offers a number of student and teacher testimonials on its website here.
Pearson has invested significant time and resources on studies of the effectiveness of SuccessMaker. Executives are proud that the company’s studies follow the “gold standard” for research articulated by the government-funded What Works Clearinghouse.
That said, the Clearinghouse has tough standards and few education technology tools score high. Here’s what the What Works Clearinghouse says about SuccessMaker: "Based on these three studies, the WWC considers the extent of evidence for SuccessMaker to be small for alphabetics, reading fluency, and general literacy achievement, and medium to large for comprehension.”
Pearson also presents two detailed studies on its website: an evaluation of SuccessMaker’s math program and an evaluation of SuccessMaker’s language arts program. Both studies employed randomized control trials that meet the What Works Clearinghouse gold standard, including large sample sizes, randomized selection of students participating in the trials and control groups. Both studies found positive -- and statistically significant -- results from using the software.
Unfortunately, the studies raise questions about their credibility when they declare that Pearson was “a partner” in the trials and that the research aimed “...to support the assertion that the SuccessMaker Math computer based learning program effectively increases students mathematics achievement and attitudes.”