The Department of Education and Institute of Education Sciences Small Business Innovation Research Program (known as ED/IES SBIR), funds projects to develop and evaluate new education technology products that ready to be widely deployed to address pressing educational needs.
In advance of IES Innovation Day at the ED Games Expo on September 21, 2023 at the Kennedy Center REACH in Washington, DC, this blog features a series of ED/IES SBIR awards that were funded for the purpose of creating education technology to ready previously funded evidence-based products for use at scale. Two of the projects highlighted below, one led by Jay Connor of Learning Ovations and the other by Clark McKown of xSEL Labs, will be featured as part of panels. This event is open to the public. Register for the Expo here.
Over its 20-year history, ED/IES SBIR has been well known for stimulating pioneering firms, such as Filament Games, Future Engineers, PocketLab, and Schell Games, to create entrepreneurial and novel education technology products. ED/IES SBIR has also established a track record for investing in a different set of projects—ones that facilitate the uptake of innovations originally developed in university or laboratory settings. This is important because even when researcher-developed innovations (for example, models, programs, and tools) are shown to have evidence for impact, many are not delivered at scale, preventing learners from fully benefiting from these innovations.
Examples of ED/IES SBIR Research to Practice Projects
Over the past two decades, ED/IES SBIR projects have provided useful models for how researchers can navigate and overcome the research-to-practice gap. ED/IES SBIR has made several awards to projects that were originally researcher-initiated, many through IES research grants. These researchers either founded a small business or partnered with an existing small business to develop and commercialize new education technology products to advance research to practice at scale in education.
The short descriptions of these projects below include links to IES website pages with additional information on the unique project models. These projects converted findings from research into scalable, education technology delivered interventions, added new components to existing research-based prototypes to enable feasible implementation and to improve the user experience, and upgraded technology systems to handle large numbers of users across numerous sites.
- Learning Ovations: Through a series of IES and NIH funded research, Dr. Carol Connor led an academic team to develop a personalized early learning assessment, the A2i, and demonstrated its efficacy for improving literacy outcomes through multiple trials. To ready the A2i for use in larger numbers of settings and to improve data processing and reporting, Learning Ovations won an ED/IES SBIR award to upgrade the underlying data architecture and create automated supports and functionalities. In 2022, Scholastic acquired Learning Ovations, with plans for the A2i to be integrated into its suite of products. See the Learning Ovations Success Story for more information.
- Mindset Works: Through an IES research grant in 2002 and with funding from other sources, Dr. Carol Dweck led a research team to develop the concept of the growth mindset—the understanding that ability and intelligence can develop with effort and learning. Lisa Blackwell, a member of the research team, founded Mindset Works and won a 2010 ED/IES SBIR award to develop training modules and animated lessons to deploy this instructional model through a multi-media website. A research grant funded in 2015 tested and demonstrated the efficacy of the technology-delivered Growth Mindset Intervention to improve outcomes of struggling learners. See the Mindset Works Success Story for more information.
- Nimble Assessment Systems: Through IES and other grants, Dr. Michael Russell led team of researchers to conducted foundational research and develop and validation of new forms of assessment. Informed by this research, Nimble Assessment Systems developed NimbleTools with an award from a ED/IES SBIR, a set of universally designed accommodation tools to improve accessibility of assessments for students with disabilities. Measured Progress acquired Nimble Assessment Systems, and the product was integrated into its suite of products for state and district assessments. See the Nimble Tools Success Story for more information.
- Children’s Progress: Through NIH grants, Dr. Eugene Galanter led a research team to create a computer-based assessment that adapted to how a student responded to each question and delivered individualized narratives for each student. With awards from NIH SBIR and ED/IES SBIR, Children’s Progress developed a commercial version of the computer-adaptive dynamic assessment (CPAA) for early childhood in literacy and math. In 2012, Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) acquired Children’s Progress, with the assessment technology incorporated into the NWEA’s assessment platform and used at scale. See the Children’s Progress Success Story for more information.
- Teachley: Through IES and NSF funded research, Dr. Herb Ginsburg led an academic team to develop prototype software programs for children from preschool to grade 3 to practice mathematics. In 2011, three members of the research team founded a small business, Teachley, which won ED/IES SBIR awards to extend the research model into easily playable, engaging, and widely used math game apps. See the Teachley Success Story for more information.
- Analytic Measures: With funding from IES, Dr. Jaren Bernstein led a research team to develop prototypes of automated oral reading fluency assessments that were administered to students during the NAEP and other national assessments by IES’s National Center for Education Statistics. Analytic Measures won ED/IES SBIR awards (here and here) to develop the school-ready version of these assessments. In 2022, Google acquired the intellectual property of the assessments with plans to incorporate the tools into its suite of products for education. See this Analytic Measures Success Story more information.
- Lightning Squad: Through awards from ED’s Office of Education Research and Improvement (now IES) and the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Drs. Nancy Madden and Bob Slavin led a research team to develop a model to make tutoring more cost-effective. With awards from ED/IES SBIR, Sirius Thinking partnered with Success For All to develop a mixed online and face-to-face multimedia intervention for struggling readers in grades 1 to 3. The program is now in wide-scale use in schools and in tutoring programs. See the Lightning Squad Success Story for more information.
- Apprendis: With research grants from IES and other sources, Dr. Janice Gobert led teams at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Rutgers University to develop and evaluated Inq-ITS (Inquiry Intelligent Tutoring System) virtual labs for students in grades 4 to 10. Apprendis was founded in order to commercialize InqITS and won an ED/IES SBIR award to develop a teacher alert system that generates real-time insights to inform instruction. InqITS is currently in wide-scale use.
- Common Ground Publishing: Through IES and other grants, Drs. Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis led a team of researchers to conduct research on new forms of technology-delivered formative assessment for student writing. A technology-based company spun out of a university tech-transfer office, Common Ground Publishing, and won ED/IES SBIR awards (here and here) to develop CGScholar based on this research. CGScholar is an AI-based digital media learning management system designed to support student writing, learning, and formative assessment, which has been in wide-scale use for several years. See the CGScholar Success Story for more information.
- xSEL Labs: With funding from IES, Dr. Clark McKown led a team led to develop screening assessments for social and emotional learning and conducted research to demonstrate the efficacy of the tool. xSEL Labs was founded to commercialize the assessments, and with an ED/IES SBIR award, is developing a platform to support educators and administrators using research-based SEL assessments. In 2023, 7 Mindsets acquired xSEL Labs was acquired to commercialize the platform at scale.
A New Program Area at ED/IES SBIR to Continue Advancing Research to Practice
With a history of awards to advance research to practice, ED/IES SBIR created a new program area in 2022 called Direct to Phase II to invest in more projects to develop commercially viable education technology products to ready existing evidence-based research for use at scale. The program resulted in one award (see here) in 2022. Please see the ED/IES SBIR solicitation page for information on the next opportunity for funding through its FY2024 program.
Stay tuned for updates on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn as ED/IES SBIR continues to support projects to advance research to practice at scale.
Edward Metz (Edward.Metz@ed.gov) is a research scientist and the program manager for the Small Business Innovation Research Program at the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.