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Writing Roadmap 2.0

By Charles G. Doe - Posted Jul 1, 2008
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Company: CTB McGraw-Hill, 20 Ryan Ranch Road, Monterey, CA 93940. Phone: (800) 538-9547; Internet:  

Price: $6.60 per student—1-year subscription, unlimited use by 1–50,000 students. $6.05 per student—1-year subscription, unlimited use by more than 50,000 students. Both plans require a one-time data setup priced at $290 per building. A single-use pricing option is also available. A 1-day on-site training for up to 25 participants is $2,200.

Audience: Grades 3–12.

Format: Online subscription-based program.

Minimum System Requirements: The recommended network requirement for optimum performance is 100MB bandwidth connected by T-1 lines. Routers and switches must be Cisco 2600 and 2900 series with CAT-5 fiber backbone to the switches. (The program will work with less; if the listed requirements aren’t available at your school, contact customer service to determine if your LAN equipment is compatible.)

The recommended student desktop settings include a 233 MHz Pentium processor or Apple G3 equivalent, 128MB or greater RAM, and a 15" SVGA monitor with 800x600 resolution. Internet Explorer 5.5 or equivalent is recommended for Apple Macs. Netscape Communicator 7.0 or Firefox 1.0 will work as well.

The administrative and reporting workstations have slightly higher requirements.

This web-based program can operate effectively with minimum technical requirements. Schools with limited bandwidth and older desktop computers will be able to access and run the program; however, it will run better with newer equipment and greater bandwidth.

Description: Writing Roadmap 2.0 is an online essay scoring tool for Windows or Macintosh platforms designed to give students practice in building writing skills.

Report Card

Overall Rating: ****

Installation: A

Content/Features: A

Ease of Use: A

Product Support: A

Reviewer Comments:

Installation: Set-up is done by CTB McGraw-Hill for a one-time charge of $290 per building. This may or may not be a bit expensive, but it certainly does simplify getting started. Installation Rating: A

Content/Features: Writing Roadmap 2.0 is designed to help students improve their writing skills. The user-friendly interface promotes easy navigation and improves the online experience. Instant feedback is provided to students. A variety of reports about student writing can be used to guide additional instruction and identify students who need added writing help.

The program uses an AI (artificial intelligence) component, basically a software engine that has been "trained" (calibrated) through the use of 300–500 human-scored papers.

Student essays are evaluated with an automated scoring system using a four- or six-point rubric scale developed by Bookette Software Company.

An improvement introduced in version 2.0 allows teachers to enter new prompts for student use or to allow students to work with the prompts that come with the program.

The writing prompts are available in four writing styles: narrative, descriptive, informative/expository, and persuasive. Student essays can be written in class on a computer or as a homework assignment requiring a computer and internet access.

Writing Roadmap 2.0 includes online writing tools. These features—Tutor, Hint, Grammar Tree, Spell Checker, and Thesaurus—can be turned on or off by teachers.

The program also introduces compliance features for the visually disabled.

Writing Roadmap provides secure delivery with lockdown browser capabilities for high-stakes testing. In addition to its other uses, this program works very well as a one-time assessment of student writing skills.

The reporting features provide holistic and analytic scores for six writing dimensions including ideas and content, organization, voice, word choice, conventions, and fluency.

The holistic scores are based on an examination of each piece of student writing as a whole as illustrated by the ability to construct meaningful responses to the topics. The analytic scoring provides up to six scores indicating proficiency levels in different aspects of writing that can be considered separately.

The scores are compiled into graphic online reports (color-coded bar or pie graphs) for teacher, parent, or student use. Reports are available by individual student or group and can be viewed by student roster, group proficiency levels, or various writing dimensions.

Online writing assessments cause some concern for critics who think they don’t inspire students to write creatively. That may be true to a degree, as this type of program corrects the four types of essays only and no poetry, no short stories, or other forms of writing. However, the program does free teachers from the difficult and time-consuming task of correcting enough essays and providing enough feedback to help students improve their writing. Having taught high school English, I know that correcting essays can be a formidable task, especially if essays are assigned often.

This program offers nearly continuous feedback and correction for up to 15,000 students per hour. Students can get immediate feedback, go back to work immediately to correct their writing, get immediate feedback on the newly finished product, and then start the process again. Teachers can use any of several reports to track student progress, identify students who need extra help, and plan future instruction.

Writing Roadmap 2.0 can break topics into subtopics to help guide student thinking and writing development. In addition to all of its other features, the program is aligned with most accepted national and state standards and can help prepare students for the increasingly important state assessment tests. Content/Features Rating: A

Ease of Use: On the one hand, this is a fairly complicated program to use. Any user will probably need some help getting started. However, the program has an easy-to-use intuitive interface and helpful features. Given its complexity, this program is actually very easy to use. Ease of Use Rating: A

Product Support: The product support options are excellent. The online support is very good. CTB Technical Support staff members are available from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Pacific time, and can be contacted by phone or email. Optional training sessions can greatly reduce the learning curve for the effective use of this program.Product Support Rating: A

Recommendation: Writing is one of the most important skills taught today—and one of the ones in which schools seem to be the least successful.

Adequate time spent writing and adequate feedback are crucial to successful writing instruction. Writing Roadmap 2.0 helps provide both, lifting some of this burden from teachers.

This is an outstanding product that is both well-designed and effective. Writing Roadmap 2.0 is an excellent program that should be part of the school writing curriculum at every level. Highly Recommended.

Reviewer: Charles Doe, Media Specialist, Hastings Area Schools, Hastings, MI.

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