A consultant has recommended that the Fairfax County school system proceed with plans to spend several million dollars for a computer software system that would allow teachers to align their instruction with the state's Standards of Learning.

The instructional management software system, by National Computer Systems (NCS), would allow the school system to create a database--which teachers could access from their desktop computers--of instructional resources and assessment items related to both state and county curriculum standards. Teachers then could use the data to design grade-specific assignments and tests based on their students' performance, strengths and weaknesses, and tailor intervention and remediation programs to an individual student's needs.

The district also would use the data to track systemwide trends and develop programs accordingly.

Herndon High School is already piloting a classroom management component of the system that allows teachers to track attendance and grades.

Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech first proposed the purchase of the system last spring, but he later decided to table the proposal after hearing about several other products that perform the same functions, at a significantly lower cost.

Officials then hired a consultant to look at the various products available to ensure that the school system gets the best bargain for its money.

In a report to the School Board last week, the consultant said that of five products reviewed, the NCS system best met the district's needs. The NCS system outranked the four other programs in all of six categories rated.

The consultant also recommended that the district purchase a supplemental product specifically targeted toward immediately improving SOL test scores, and that the district establish a special team to implement the program and clarify its vision of what it expects to accomplish with the instructional management system.

Maribeth Luftglass, the district's chief information officer, told board members the system already has moved to implement several of the recommendations, including hiring a project team to spearhead planning and implementation of the program.

The district also has contracted with Richmond-based Edutest.com to provide an online assessment program tied directly to the Virginia SOLs. The Edutest.com program allows teachers and administrators to regularly assess their students' mastery of the state standards.

The district has signed a one-year $329,600 contract with the firm, with an option to renew for two additional years, to provide the services to all elementary and middle schools. The Edutest.com program would be phased in, beginning with the district's 20 Project Excel schools, which are to be online by the second quarter of this year. The schools are low performing elementary schools that have been given extra resources, including more teachers and more class time to help them improve student performance.

The remainder of county elementary schools would be online by the third quarter, and the middle schools will follow.

Edutest.com will provide training to staff at the Project Excel schools as part of its contract. District technology specialists also will receive training and in turn, will train staff at other schools.

Costs for the Edutest.com contract and hiring of the project team will be paid by reallocating a portion of the $2.9 million that had already been included in the fiscal 2000 technology plan for implementation of the instructional management software program.