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Success Story out of the ED/IES SBIR Program:
Speak Agent: Academic Language Learning for Kindergarten to Grade 8 STEM

Screen shot of Speak Agent

Project Title: Speak Agent: Academic Language Learning for Kindergarten to Grade 8 STEM

Related ED/IES SBIR Awards:
2014 Phase I ($199,995); 2015 Phase II ($899,985) from the ED/IES SBIR program and Phase I and Phase II awards in 2015 and 2016 from National Science Foundation's SBIR program

Key Information:
Speak Agent
Location: Rockville, MD
Video Demo:
Contact: Ben Grimley;

Speak Agent accelerates K–8 students' acquisition of STEM concept knowledge and STEM communication skills through interactive and engaging activities that apply math and science practices. School districts use Speak Agent as a kindergarten to Grade 8 supplemental program in both physical and virtual classrooms. It delivers a suite of activities for teacher-led instruction, independent practice, and peer collaboration. Each of the 20 activity types in Speak Agent engages students in one of these modes using a combination of multimodal gameplay, visual aids, interactive stories, and/or expressive language. The program is designed for learner variability. That encompasses English Learners, low-SES students, students with learning disabilities, and any learner who experiences an academic language deficit. Speak Agent products include: Elementary Math, Middle-Grades Math, Algebra for English Learners, Elementary Science, and Bilingual Early STEM. Each product includes a teacher dashboard that displays real-time progress, formative assessment data, and items added to the student's digital portfolio. Speak Agent offers year-round professional learning, including 1:1 teacher coaching, a professional development knowledge base and video series, and a unique Academic Language Strategies course that showcases research-based instructional strategies.

Research and Development
Digital Promise includes Speak Agent in its Research-Based Design Certified product line. The company intentionally designed each of its 20 activity types as vehicles to apply specific research-based strategies found in the Math and Literacy models curated by Digital Promise's Learner Variability Project. These models provide the learning sciences basis for all student tasks in Speak Agent. The company, in partnership with experts at Digital Promise and WestEd, organized these strategies into its own unique Academic Language Learning Model.

As a result, three pilot studies have demonstrated the promise of Speak Agent to support academic concept acquisition: A quasi-experimental design study (N=74) in 2017–2018 by Rockman et al. found that 2nd grade science students using Speak Agent acquired 40 to 52 new Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) science concepts at a 210% faster rate than students in the control group receiving standard instruction. The effect was repeated in two 12-week phases. In 2018, results from a small study in a suburban school district with 2nd grade students (N=67) revealed similar results on the TEKS over a 12-week period for science and reading. Both populations in the above studies were 80% English Learners. And in 2019, a small-scale pre-to-post study by LEANLAB Education revealed significant gains among a group of Grade 7 students (N=13) over 9 weeks in reading on Knowledge is Power Program's (KIPP) quarterly assessment.

Speak Agent has consistently demonstrated feasibility, usability, and evidence of promise because it is practical to implement in real-world teaching environments. Teachers report being able to learn the basics in a 45-minute training session. Speak Agent products closely align with the classroom curriculum week by week. So, for example, when students are learning about the volume of cylinders and cones or exploring the water cycle, Speak Agent is teaching the relevant, curriculum-aligned academic language to support that.

Speak Agent is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) subscription service to public schools and districts. It runs on any computer, mobile platform, or White Board, and supports in-classroom use, virtual classroom use, remote independent practice, and hybrid models.

Since launching in 2017, more than 200 schools and 60,000 students have actively used Speak Agent. Schools and districts may purchase site licenses for each subject and grade band and save substantially when they purchase multiple products. They may also purchase seat licenses for special populations such as English Learners. Speak Agent, Inc. is a portfolio company of ETS Accelerate and TEDCO.

Industry Awards for Innovation and Recognition: