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Software—Software firms tackle testing the three Rs

In schools near and far, Internet connections are spreading, computer use is evolving and standardized testing is digging in.

That’s good news for several San Diego software companies that sell software to the schools market. But the software they’re selling is not necessarily the electronic counterpart to textbooks.

Instead, software firms are tying their products to high-stakes testing, responding to an environment where standardized test scores can bring a public school rewards or a slap on the wrist from the state.

Three smaller software companies are addressing such high-stakes tests, partially , if not entirely , with their product lines.

FunEducation, a startup firm with 11 full- and part-time employees, is taking paper-based practice tests, which resemble California’s standardized test, and putting them into computer format.

The test materials were developed by San Diego’s Carney Educational Services, which will split the profits on the venture, said Patrick Kelly, FunEducation’s president.

The software will also let administrators break down student scores as they see fit, perhaps by gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status or the criteria of the school leader’s choice. A home version without that capability will also be available.

To get ahead in the competitive schools market , where buyers are likely to ignore unfamiliar companies , Kelly said he is trying to offer schools “a painkiller” while competitors are selling “vitamins.” He’s also leaning on the Carney alliance.

FunEducation is shooting for a January release.

As students approach their springtime appointment with standardized tests, schools may want to determine which students need extra help, and in what subjects.

Promotional material distributed by San Diego’s EdVision Corp. says the Miami-Dade County, Fla., schools use EdVision’s Skills Connection testing software to do just that. It’s also used to periodically evaluate how a teacher’s approach in a classroom is working.

Skills Connection , which generates custom tests and home study materials , is one of several products created by EdVision, formerly Tudor Publishing. It may be used in conjunction with the company’s Curriculum Designer software.

Other EdVision offerings are its online reading placement exam and two free online services, one of which is a home tutoring site.

EdVision made $10 million in sales in the fiscal year ended June 30, up from $5 million the year before, said company CEO William Tudor. It should double its sales in the current year to $20 million, Tudor said. Founded in 1990, the privately held company is in its fourth year of profitability, he said.

Eighteen months ago the company had 40 employees. There are 85 now. Tudor said the firm will soon move to a bigger space.

Storing away test scores and other data is one of the main thrusts of a different company, EDmin.com. Its Internet-based Virtual EDucation data warehousing service can also aggregate and disaggregate data.

Company promotional materials emphasize how its service can help administrators keep an eye on the way students, classes, schools or the district measure up to the state curriculum standards. They add that data drawn from the warehouse can help administrators make decisions on matters such as allocating resources.

Records for some 800,000 students across the United States are now housed in EDmin.com’s local data center, said Greg Argendeli, the company’s vice president of engineering. Some schools elect to store their own.

All told, the system serves 1 million students, up from 300,000 last year, added company President Clayton Hoyle.

The VirtualEDucation product has several other components, including online calendars and newsletters. EDmin.com recently unveiled a similar product for the classroom called TeacherLinq with features such as attendance and discipline tracking.

Hoyle declined to provide revenues, but said the privately held company, founded in 1989, was profitable for six years prior to VirtualEducation’s launch in January 1999. The company now operates in the red as it builds its product, he said. In 18 months the employee count has grown from the high teens to 60.

“We’ve got more than enough opportunities now,” Hoyle said.

However, Hoyle said opportunities can often be illusory in dealing with schools. It’s easy to confuse mere interest with a sales lead, he said, so the company approaches the matter with caution.

The company also helps schools plan their technology needs with a Web-based software product, and installs network infrastructure in buildings.

San Diego is also home to bigger firms that produce software for the K-12 and higher education markets.

Lightspan, Inc., which went public in February, reported $11.1 million in third-quarter revenues and projected $98 million in revenues for the year ($48 million of which would be deferred license revenue). Nationwide, the company has 570 employees.

CompassLearning, formerly Jostens Learning, has just less than 500 employees nationwide.

A company spokeswoman declined to give revenues. CompassLearning is part of WRC Media, Inc., which in turn is part of Ripplewood Holdings, LLC of New York.

Ripplewood acquired the San Diego company in 1999.

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