SoapBox Labs announces new product for classroom reading assessment

3 Mar 2020

Image: © Anehoko/

SoapBox Labs has announced a new product called Fluency, which enables teachers to assess reading fluency using voice recognition technology.

On Tuesday (3 March), SoapBox Labs, an Irish start-up that develops safe and secure voice technology for kids, announced the launch of SoapBox Fluency.

This new technology offers teachers a voice-enabled alternative to manual assessment of fluency for school-going children up to about 11 years old.

The start-up believes that by enabling the integration of voice technology into existing formative and summative assessments, SoapBox Fluency will offer educators and parents immediate and longitudinal feedback about a child’s progress.

Tools for the classroom

Founded by Dr Patricia Scanlon, SoapBox Labs has developed technology for children that is modelled on children’s speech and behaviours.

Scanlon commented: “Fluency is extremely challenging for educators to evaluate given the diversity and complexity of accents, dialects and reading abilities in the K-5 classroom [from kindergarten to fifth grade in the US]. The voice technology used in mobile phones or other devices isn’t nearly sophisticated enough to be used with children.

“Years of research and development went into delivering voice technology with the level of accuracy required to assess fluency. This is about creating tools for the classroom that enable equitable, objective assessments – that are wholly invisible to the child.”

Making assessment less ‘cumbersome’

The company highlighted the importance of this kind of technology, noting how “cumbersome” traditional and direct assessment can be for educators, and that it is “subject to inconsistency”.

The company said: “Expanding voice-enabled assessment beyond words and short sentences to cover the sort of longer reading passages and stories required to assess fluency has, however, proven challenging for automated speech recognition (ASR) technology.

“By focusing specifically on children’s unique voice and speech behaviours, SoapBox Labs’ proprietary technology is able to handle acoustic and behavioural differences inherent in a child’s speech when performing reading tasks.”

SoapBox Labs sees voice-enabled literacy assessments as a huge market, which the firm estimates is worth $1.7bn in the US alone this year.

The announcement of the start-up’s new technology to assess fluency comes just a few months after it announced that it was awarded a multi-year contract with Florida State University’s renowned Florida Centre for Reading Research, as part of the Reach Every Reader initiative.

The initiative, which is a partnership between the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the MIT Integrated Learning Initiative, focuses on the development of advanced solutions for readers.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic