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Success Stories Out of the ED/IES SBIR Program: Learning Ovations

Screen shot of the the Learning Ovations Classroom screen

Last Updated: March 2023

Product Description
A2i supports Kindergarten to Grade 3 students to read at or above grade level, by the end of Grade 3. In A2i, students take web-delivered assessments throughout the school year to track progress in a range of literacy skills, including vocabulary, letter-naming, word reading, spelling, sentence writing, comprehension, and inferencing. The A2i algorithms analyze data and generate recommendations for how teachers can structure small groups and individual instruction to maximize literacy for each student. A2i also provides a Literacy Outcomes Specialist for each school that use the intervention. This individual develops a customized implementation plan reflecting the unique circumstances of each school and to provide ongoing support to teachers. A2i also has the capability to integrate external assessments and curriculum that districts and schools use into its system, providing teachers data-driven insights on student performance in literacy while they continue using materials with which they are familiar.

Research and Development
Initial research, development of prototypes, and multiple evaluations were conducted in academic settings with the support of a progression of awards from IES in 20042007, and 2013, and the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NIH/NICHD) in 2013. During these projects, the team conducted basic research to understand how the effects of different types of literacy instruction (e.g., instruction focused on phonics vs. meaning focused instruction) depend on children's constellations of language, phonological awareness, decoding and encoding, and comprehension skills. Findings informed the development of an initial prototype of a technology delivered assessment that generates results to inform instruction (the A2i) for students in Grade 1 and subsequent versions for students in Grade 2 and 3. Researchers then conducted a series of seven randomized controlled studies with results demonstrating that the A2i prototypes were effective for individualizing literacy instruction and led to literacy gains for Kindergarten to Grade 3 students.

While the A2i was effective in controlled research studies, feedback from practitioners in the field demonstrated that implementation often required substantial amounts of researcher support and local district adaptation, and that the cost was not sustainable for most school district budgets. In 2014, Learning Ovations received an award from ED/IES SBIR to develop a commercially viable upgraded version of A2i to be used at scale in classrooms around the country. Development focused on redesigning the underlying data architecture to enable a high-capacity, cost-efficient, and a scalable version for teachers and educational leaders in a wide variety of settings. The redesign permitted the system to automatically update to optimize data flow while reducing human maintenance. The researchers also developed, tested, and integrated professional development modules within the overall system. Pilot testing at the end of Phase II with 20 teachers who had been familiar with the old version demonstrated that the updated system was more feasible to use and efficient across implementations. Results also demonstrated that overall student reading achievement improved after using A2i.

In 2019, a five-year Education Innovation and Research (EIR) expansion grant from the U.S. Department of Education totaling $14.65 million was awarded to a consortium of researchers and developers, including researchers at UC Irvine, Learning Ovations, Digital Promise (a non-profit), and MDRC, to expand the A2i program.

In 2020 and 2021, Learning Ovations won ED/IES SBIR awards to develop a data dashboard to present data driven insights on student literacy outcomes to district administrators, school leaders, and educators. Results from a pilot study with 10 school leaders at the end of Phase I demonstrated the prototype successfully generated reports at the school, classroom, and individual level and captured how much time school leaders spent with the prototype. Results also demonstrated that all school leaders who used the prototype believe it provided useful information to inform decision making.

For more information about the pathways to scaling the A2i, see this interview of Carol and Jay Connor here.

Path to Commercialization
On September 1, 2022, Learning Ovations was acquired by Scholastic, with Scholastic integrating the A2i within its suite of reading products that are used on a national and global scale. Prior to the acquisition in 2022, the A2i had been used in more than 130 schools across 30 districts and supported more than 3,300 teachers and more than 43,000 students.

The main pathways to commercialization included partnerships with districts and schools, who provided feedback and guidance on implementation, and helped identify key metrics of success. Learning Ovations also partnered with community and literacy organizations. During the height of COVID-19, new versions of A2i were created for use in the home and after-school and summer context were created and rolled out in community settings. Read Charlotte and Cleveland County supported the development and rollout of these new tools and provided feedback about the potential of using A2i in this new community context.

News Features and IES Blogs:

  • 2022 Learning Ovations is acquired by Scholastic to support scale-up of the A2i formative assessment reading program. Read Here.
  • 2022 A2i is featured in an Inside IES Research Blog on tutoring programs that are in use in scale for in-person and remote learning. Read here.
  • 2021 TV news reports of the A2i Reading CheckUp when it was launched during COVID is available here and here.
  • 2021 The A2i is featured in a 2021 ED Games Expo event, hosted by AmeriCorps and IES, focused on new models to enable remote tutoring to accelerate learning during COVID19. Watch here
  • 2020 Carol and Jay Connor are one of the featured interviews in an IES series with education researchers who have successfully scaled their interventions. Read Here.

Awards and Recognition

  • 2019 The A2i by Learning Ovations is a finalist for a CODiE award. Read here.

Peer Review Publications

  • Findings from all publications on the A2i software and related professional development are posted on Learning Ovations website.

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