Dublin’s SoapBox Labs partners with Amplify on US ed-tech

25 Aug 2020

Dr Patricia Scanlon. Image: SoapBox Labs

With schools impacted by Covid-19 restrictions, Amplify has adopted SoapBox Labs’ voice technology to enable the remote evaluation of students’ reading fluency, accuracy and comprehension.

Today (25 August), New York ed-tech firm Amplify announced the release of a voice-enabled reading assessment programme for students that it has built in collaboration with Dublin’s SoapBox Labs.

It claimed that the platform, Text Reading Online, is the first literacy assessment of its kind to enable remote evaluation of oral reading fluency, accuracy and comprehension, which are critical indicators of development for young readers.

Larry Berger, CEO at Amplify, said: “Given the realities of teaching and learning in a pandemic, educators are seeking approaches to assessing a child’s independent reading when they cannot be together in person.

“We are pleased to offer Text Reading Online as part of the overall mClass literacy suite to help educators assess their students’ reading development remotely, including the accurate identification of learning loss and how best to address it, this year.”

An urgent need

Speaking to Siliconrepublic.com, Martyn Farrows, chief operating officer of SoapBox Labs, explained that the integration with Amplify was originally planned for September 2021. Due to the sudden disruption to schools and education caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Irish company decided to accelerate the development of this collaboration.

Farrows said that the product will initially be available to 150,000 children in the US, with an opportunity to grow that to 1.5m over the next 24 months.

Through its work with Amplify, voice technology company SoapBox Labs wants to ensure that teachers can still perform literacy assessments that require direct observation of students by trained educators. Text Reading Online aims to help educators tailor instruction and avoid reading loss during a critical development stage, even in a remote setting.

To perform the assessment, students read two texts aloud: the first text is at the student’s grade level, the second is adapted based on the student’s performance on the initial text. Students then answer a set of text-dependent comprehension questions to evaluate their degree of understanding.

Data from the assessment, including reading rate and specific error types, provides educators with near real-time feedback, which they can use to identify areas of focus and cater lessons to each child’s needs.

‘Making educators’ lives easier’

In a statement, SoapBox Labs CEO Dr Patricia Scanlon said: “This is about making educators’ lives just a little bit easier by providing them with tech-enabled tools that allow them to engage in accurate and private literacy assessment for all their students.

“But the implications are even more far reaching. The moment for voice tech in learning has arrived, and we view our work as essential in the development of a more inclusive, equitable education future.”

Farrows underscored Scanlon’s point, stating that the technology will make literacy assessments more accessible. “The impact is huge in terms of continuity of service for the kids,” he told Siliconrepublic.com.

“Using technology in this way helps to support equity of access in the sense that if kids aren’t getting the supports they need in school, this gives teachers the opportunity to be able to do assessments while the kids are at home.

“It handles changes in dialects and accents, recognises non-native English speakers and does that really well across the board. It removes that element of bias to provide equity of access.”

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic