Merit Software Review – Grammar Fitness

I am a grade 6, 7 and 8 middle school English language arts teacher at Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative Middle School.  My co-teacher and I have purchased Grammar Fitness Levels 3 and 4 for the past 3 years.  We have found it to be an excellent tool for increasing achievement in mechanics. The students love using the program, and the ability to challenge themselves.

The first class we used Grammar Fitness with are now sophomores. These students have come back to tell us how much they remember from the program and the skills they were able to transfer into their writing assignments.  The interactive nature of the program made one of the least exciting aspects of language arts, one of the more inviting and challenging aspects for our students.

Our current students look forward to using the program in class. Total engagement, the instant feedback of complete explanations, and the chatter we hear when they get something wrong and say to a friend, “Did you know that?” They remember it the next time. Perfect, that is what we, as their teachers, want.

In fact, the best part for us is that we know when the unit is complete, they have mastered those skills.  And unlike some other programs, they do remember what they learned. The silly “Awesome”, “Wow” and other pop ups when a test is finished makes them chuckle.

We also would like to thank your support staff.  Your team has assisted with the set up of the program, and answered all our questions, and concerns with patience and kindness. This is another reason why we will continue to purchase your program in the future.

We realize companies usually only hear from people when there is a problem, we wanted to make sure you knew what high regard we have for your product and your personnel.


Muriel Pawlik
Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative Middle School

Education for the “New Majority” And how the American education system needs to readjust its priorities

The American education system needs to readjust its priorities and serve what Bill Gates, in a recent speech, called the “new majority.”

Who are the “new majority”? Students who

  • graduate from high school, but are unprepared for college
  • attend college, but do not receive a credential in six years
  • start their higher education after the age of 25 and who are the first in their family to go to college

Not only are more alternative education providers needed, says Gates, but “we also need to focus within the [education] system, and understand why technology doesn’t scale.”

Solutions, according to Gates, will emerge from a 3-pronged approach — effective personalized learning, building an evidence base of what works, and adoption of proven educational technologies.

Merit has been working on these issues for several years. Based on insights gleaned from working with K12 and college students, as well as instructors who use our software, we have learned of ways to improve how our content is created and used. As a result, we are about to launch two initiatives to help educate the “new majority.”

The first initiative is News Punch.  News Punch is based on Paragraph Punch, a popular and widely used tool for teaching writing skills.

News Punch takes links to fun and fascinating news stories and provides guided writing prompts about them.  The program helps students find evidence in texts and write about it.

New news-based writing prompts are to be released almost every week. Suggestions are welcome from users. Custom prompts can be created for any informational text or media.

Research from the Carnegie Foundation shows that writing about reading improves student reading comprehension.

News Punch is scalable: its built-in supports help students of a wide range of abilities participate in English Language Arts writing exercises.

News Punch activities can be used by both K12 and remedial college students, as well as non-U.S. learners who want to improve their English. Although further evidence is necessary, we believe work in News Punch can probably be used as a measure of college readiness.

There is a free, full-working example (no login required) on the News Punch web site.

The second initiative is syncing Merit Online programs with social media tools such as Facebook and Google Plus. This step has many potential benefits. For example, enhanced collaboration and discussion opportunities based on students’ writing.

Feel free to share comments on these issues below.

Are Schools Acting Smart About Literacy? How a new idea from Merit can help


According to a new report from the Brown Center on Educational Policy, states that have adopted Common Core standards are likely to see a de-emphasis in use of fiction materials and increased use of nonfiction materials in language classes. This is in accordance with the Common Core recommendations. NAEP test scores have been lower, and some educators have charged that this is a consequence of these changes and other Common Core recommendations.

Yet, states that have not implemented the Common Core standards have seen a similar depression of scores. The Brown Center report concludes that whatever is depressing NAEP scores is more general than the application of one set of standards or another.

The team at Merit talks to educators every day. It is clear that educators need to be smarter about how, and when, they choose to use interventions to improve test scores.

We have observed that schools rely too heavily on leveled reading programs to help students catch up to grade level. Despite wide use, there is little evidence to show leveled reading programs close large, long-term gaps in reading comprehension beyond those in early primary grades.

The increased use of nonfiction has coincided with advances in text simplification tools, Text simplification tools have made it easier than ever to create, and use, leveled texts in language classes.

It is understandable that a school would want to use adaptive reading technologies for struggling students as an intervention, or for short-term test prep. However, leveled texts should not be the driver of classroom instruction.  Leveled texts strip a lot of the meaning out of the content. Students would be better served if there were another way that they could participate in classroom activities to promote comprehension.

This is why we created News Punch — a program that builds comprehension through writing about texts. The program combines links to fun and fascinating news stories with step-by-step, guided writing prompts. New topics are created and deployed at least 40 times a year.

Recent News Punch topics have covered the Flint water crisis, the race to build reusable rockets, and a public wall in Seattle covered in chewing gum. Input on which articles to use is welcomed from educators and students. The Merit team can create custom activities for schools for a modest fee.

Research has shown that when students write about reading, as well as read challenging texts, there is a strong correlation to improved reading comprehension.

While we are just launching News Punch now, the program has been in test mode for several months.  Many educators have already used it with students and they love it. Please contact us if you would like to try News Punch now too.

Are K-12 Students Hurt by Computers in Schools?

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found in a recent world wide study that heavy use of computers in K-12 schools does not necessarily improve student results. In fact, the study found that students who spend above-average amounts of time using computers in class perform worse on written and digital reading tests than those who use computers for below-average amounts of time.

Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s education director, stated: “School systems need to find more effective ways to integrate technology into teaching and learning to provide educators with learning environments that support 21st century pedagogies and provide children with the 21st century skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world. Technology is the only way to dramatically expand access to knowledge.”

Among the chief complaints in the OECD report is that students tend to get “lost” online when completing reading and writing assignments.

This is where Merit comes in.

Merit reading and writing programs control the navigation experience. In Merit writing programs, for example, students are guided step-by-step while they work. Progress at various stages of development is automatically tracked in an easy-to-use tool for students and instructors.

Read the OECD report: Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection

Merit’s Writing Programs with free trial links:

Helping Students Adapt to New World Realities

Students need opportunities to succeed in a rapidly changing world. The impact of current turmoil in China on the world economy is only one example of how quickly things can change, and the need to adapt. Deeper learning is a term for skills and knowledge that will help students succeed in the classroom and on the job in twenty-first century life.

A recent survey of Fortune 500 companies shows the most valuable skills an employee can have in the twenty-first century are skills that are the focal points of deeper learning: teamwork, problem solving, and communication. Students who have mastered the full deeper learning skill set can set their own goals and adapt to new circumstances. The core of deeper learning is a group of six competencies summarized below.

  1. Mastery of core academics, such as reading, writing, math, and science.
  2. Learning to solve complex problems.
  3. Learning teamwork
  4. Learning to communicate effectively.
  5. Learning how to learn, which includes working well independently but asking for help when needed.
  6. Developing academic mindsets, which includes students seeing work through to completion and understanding the relevance of school work to their lives and interests.

This is where Merit fits in.

Merit programs provide detailed coverage of the core competencies students need to succeed.

Concepts in reading, writing, grammar, and vocabulary are covered from the basics to higher levels. Built-in hints and tips support students while they work,

Progress automatically tracked in an easy-to-use tracking tool for students and instructors.

Learn more at

California’s Acceptance of Common Core State Standards

Merit Software helps the common coreA recent report issued by Children Now, a national think tank and advocate on children’s issues, states that 93 percent of California voters want schools to teach skills mandated in the Common Core Standards—that is, greater daily use of analysis, critical thinking, and real-world skills.

The strong acceptance in California of the Common Core is in contrast with overwhelming resistance to it in many states. Teachers and parents in some states are trying to repeal its use by urging students to refuse to take the test.

However, Californians are on board with the program and in favor of “measuring students on reading and writing skills across all subjects, including math and science.” They believe the program will prepare students for the competitive job market and make them more competitive with their peers from other countries.

Click here to read more.

Why Standardized Testing Advocates Are Wrong

Answers to the testUse of digital, adaptive learning programs such as those produced by Merit reduce the need for annual standardized testing in core subjects, particularly English Language Arts, in U.S. public schools.

The programs’ built-in tracking and feedback provide useful formative assessments for teachers, parents, and administrators.

It is easy to compare the results of users of the programs to get a snapshot of competency. Merit learning programs are also for teachers to learn to use.

Technology associated with adaptive programs is no longer a barrier. Student use of Internet in schools has increased dramatically. Schools are providing better training and equipment.


Standardized tests have their place, and should not be abandoned altogether. However, adaptive learning software can, and should, be used to monitor and enhance student achievement.

New Enhancements to Punch Writing Programs

Merit is pleased to announce new enhancements to its Punch process writing programs including Paragraph Punch, Open Punch, and Essay Punch.

Students who have completed a written work may now edit it by logging into their Online Portfolios.

The Post Published Editing tool allows users to see the current state of their work, review past versions, and print their newly updated paragraphs. The paragraph as it was initially published will be preserved both on the Published Paragraph screen, and on the Post Published Edits screen under the title “Original.”


The improved editing functionality has been seamlessly integrated into the software and is backwardly compatible with all previously completed written works.

Learn more about the Punch writing programs:

Starter Paragraph Punch

Paragraph Punch

Open Punch

Essay Punch


It’s Time to Level the Playing Field So More Students Can Compete Academically

FriendsWhile students respond positively to teachers who set high academic expectations, teachers often fail to set these expectations for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

A report from the Center for American Progress entitled “The Power of the Pygmalion Effect” indicates that teacher expectations strongly predict college completion.

Data suggest that more needs to be done to improve teachers’ instructional skills and to dispel social stereotypes.

Teachers do not get the rigorous training they need and most teacher prep programs do not give training in high-performing, high-poverty schools, according to the report.

This is where Merit fits in.

Merit programs provide detailed coverage of the core competencies students require to succeed.

Concepts in reading, writing, grammar, and vocabulary are covered from the basics to higher levels. Built-in hints and tips support students while they work.

Progress is automatically monitored in an easy-to-use tracking tool for instructors.

The software is adaptive and adjusts to a suitable level of challenge with minimal teacher intervention.

Learn more at



Merit’s New UI Changes

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 11.31.54 AM

Merit is pleased to announce the recent rollout of several user interface changes to its online learning platform.

Among the changes are: a flexible design, based on the dimensions of the users screen display; larger font sizes; and crisper, clearer buttons.

The new look may be seen by trying any full-working demo from a Merit program’s web page.