Sramana Mitra: I’m going to go in a bunch of different directions in the next part of the interview. One, let’s start with the product and the model of how students are using the product. What is the infrastructure? How are teachers engaging? How are parents engaging to come up with a good outcome?
Stuart Udell: Our flagship product is actually the name of the company – Achieve3000. It represents two-thirds of our revenue. What Achieve3000 Literacy does so exceptionally well is that it’s built to provide equity and access for kids. It does that by helping the teacher differentiate instruction in the classroom. That’s something that all teachers think about.
If I’m a 5th grade teacher and I’ve got kids reading at a 1st grade level and 10th grade level, how do I handle that? We serve up articles. We have this repository of 20,000 existing articles. If a teacher wants to grab an article on Martin Luther King or tectonic plate shifting, that’s all there. The teacher grabs the article and assigns it to students. The secret sauce is that every article is served up at 12 different reading levels in English and even Spanish. There’s translation in 70 other languages.
For that 5th grader kid reading at a 1st grade level, his passage is shorter, the vocabulary is less difficult, the sentence structure is less complex. It’s the same article. The kid reading at 10th grade level has a longer passage, harder vocabulary. The kid who needs Spanish support can toggle back and forth between Spanish and English. That notion of providing content to a child right in their zone of proximal development is very helpful. Kids learn best in their zone.
It’s hard enough to challenge kids to grow but not too hard to cause frustration. To get to your question about how does the teacher use it to engage, now that every kid has read the article and answered some questions, that gives us data to know exactly the ability of the student to comprehend it. That data feeds an algorithm that allows us to adjust the student’s reading level.
We continue to serve up the student content as per their exact reading level. Specifically, the level that stretches them just a little bit. Since every kid is engaged with the same content, the teacher can have a robust conversation in the classroom. That’s what a lot of parents care about. How do we take relevant issues in society and have robust conversations about them in the classroom.
Our product is used in a lot of adult education situations as well. As an example, we are used in all 35 state prisons in California, at least, on the male inmates side. The prison population has adults who are reading at a much lower level on average than they should be. We’re trying to reskill them so they can reenter the population with stronger skills.
The uniqueness and the brilliance about the product is that it can be used up and down all age levels. The power is how the teacher then brings that topic to life in the classroom. If we teach in the old way and we all read something that’s too hard for me to understand, I can’t even access the classroom discussion.