Quiet revolution: Could Falmouth teacher-turned-software developer have education's next big thing?

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FALMOUTH — In the same way the Maine Technology Initiative put the state on the map for classroom computers, education’s next big thing might just be coming from Maine.

At least, that’s what Academic Merit creator Ogden Morse is hoping.

Last year, Morse piloted his three-part Web-based English teaching assistance software in 25 Maine schools, with acclaimed results.

The software provides online text-specific assessments for students to accompany traditional classroom learning. Teachers can assign a passage from a book, then choose from the software’s library of assessments for reading comprehension, vocabulary and short essays.

“As a teacher, I’ll know before I walk in the door how my students did on that assignment,” Morse said.

And that’s not a stretch for Morse to imagine. He was an English teacher at Falmouth High School for six years. He took a leave of absence last year to pursue what is becoming the talk of the English teaching and educational technology community.

“I liked the program a great deal … because it complemented what I was doing in class this year,” said English teacher Peter Vose, who used the software in his Falmouth classes.

In addition encouraging student comprehension, the software creates standard assessments, called Assessments 21, that are graded by Maine teachers in a double-blind environment.

“This program gave me the option of submitting my students’ essays for scoring. I scored them as well, but it was great to have objective assessments of my students’ work,” Vose said.

The assessments measure a variety of reading and writing skills, including critical thinking, organization and grammar, and provide teachers a place to improve their own assessment abilities by providing feedback on how the grades they give to student essays compare to the double-blind assessments. In essence, it functions as a teaching and assessment tool, and as a professional development tool.

“It’s quietly revolutionary,” Morse said. “It changes the dynamic in profound ways.”

And he’s not the only one who says so.

Academic Merit won the prestigious CODiE award this year, given by the Software and Information Industry Association for the best student assessment solution. The small Maine company was up against of international education software developers like McGraw-Hill.

Former Gov. Angus King, who pioneered Maine’s laptop computer initiative, recently told Morse Academic Merit could be the next step in education technology.

“He called the professional development piece the ‘special sauce,'” Morse said.

Morse has been meeting regularly with state officials about a potential statewide trial of the software, and recently returned from a conference in Denver about developing classroom-based assessments that take place throughout the year, rather than the summary assessments that are used now.

“We’re definitely headed in the right direction,” Morse said.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.