OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Next Assess: Child Assessment that Actually Helps Teachers Prepare Low Income Children to Succeed

Teachers need an easier way to acquire accurate child assessment information to achieve breakthrough results for low income children.

Photo of Henry Wilde
5 6

Written by

Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

Our thinking has evolved in two ways since we submitted our initial proposal. First, we have three assessment pilots in our network that are related aspects of our proposal. In two of those three pilots, we have observed that teachers are able to individualize in the moment in response to real-time data - which is exactly what Nest Assess system that we propose will do. Second, we have determined based on one of our pilots that if you have accurate beginning of year data, it is possible to reconsider the paradigm of assessing all children on all domains three times a year. Given this realization, we have had two fruitful conversations with Head Start experts who have helped us to understand how our approach realizes the intention of the Head Start Performance Standards. While we believe our proposed approach is ideal for children, there have been concerns that that was not the intention of the HSPS, but based on our conversations we are now confident that it is - and in fact it meets the aspirations of individualization.

Name or Organization

Acelero Learning

Geography

5,100 children 0-5 in 47 centers in NJ, PA, WI, NV; 38 other programs in 20 states use our content.

What is your stage of development?

  • Advanced Innovator with 3 to 10+ years of experience in ECD

Type

  • For-profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Prototyping: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing my idea.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Head Start serves 900,000 of America's lowest income young children in more than 50,000 classrooms around the country every day. Teachers in those rooms spend a collective 10 million hours/year assessing children. And there is little to no evidence that any of those hours lead to better outcomes for children; even worse, the opportunity cost is time invested in better teaching. The game changing innovation necessary to revolutionize ECE is an assessment tool that is predictive of later success, saves teachers' time, and produces timely data on which they can easily act.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Product: A new or enhanced physical product that creates value for end beneficiaries.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

Our solution is a technology platform, Next Assess, that aims to integrate best-in-class literacy, math, executive function and other assessment tools -- tools that have been developed by expert academics in each field and currently exist in the market as scarcely used and disparate systems -- to fundamentally change the way teachers, caregivers and educators use data to drive child outcomes. This assessment will be administered in less than 15 minutes per child, at a cost equivalent to or less than the near-monopoly product in ECE child assessment, and yield reliable, actionable data to inform teachers’ day to day curricular planning, caregiver interactions with their children, and programmatic oversight. End of year results would be shared with future kindergarten teachers and funding sources to foster game-changing educational solutions based on data that has never before been available at this scale. The prevailing assessment product relies on time-consuming teacher observations that are not reliable or accurate, and ultimately saps precious teaching time away from our youngest learners. The unreliable data is then used to drive unsuccessful curricular decisions, and starves caregivers and parents of the knowledge they need to meaningfully participate in their children’s educational success.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

We believe reliable child assessments can help teachers differentiate for children, which is essential to closing the achievement gap. Unfortunately, child assessment in ECE programs today is driven by teachers making observations, writing them down, transferring notes to the chosen assessment system, and trying to "grade" the child in 50-60 different domains. The result is inaccurate and unreliable data and hours of teacher time that cannot be used to drive classroom or program improvement.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

In the ecosystem of early childhood education for low income children, when it comes to child assessment, the disconnect between practitioners, product companies, academics, and regulators perpetuates and exacerbates the achievement gap. Practitioners serving low income children are funded primarily through government programs, so they fear non-compliance with rules that could threaten their livelihoods. As a result, they seek safety in using the most commonly employed, well packaged child assessment product that checks off the government’s requirements. Providers of early childhood services for low income children are also by and large small, localized, and fragmented, so they lack resources to do R&D themselves or the heft to exert pressure on the market. Child assessment product companies are either beholden to the entrenched monopoly player (which has strong sales, marketing, and account management capacity), are unable to carve out market share, or see the market for low income kids as an afterthought. Academics decry the current assessments used by providers as wasteful, but the tools they produce in their research are limited to their domain of expertise and either face challenges being commercialized (because that is not the academic’s focus or expertise) or seek out a non-low income market. Regulators want better outcomes for kids and are open to new solutions, but they can only signal, not drive the market. We are uniquely positioned to leverage our expertise and track record with each of these audiences to develop a game changing innovation. As direct service providers for 5,000+ children, we understand precisely the challenges programs face, and as a Head Start program, we have the best compliance record in the country in the most highly regulated ECE program. We are not primarily a product company, but we have invested $3M to build a child data system, and have assembled in house technology and product management expertise. We have collaborated closely with leading academics at Stanford, Harvard, NYU, Northwestern, the University of Minnesota, and others and have developed strong working relationships and a reputation with researchers. And we are considered an exemplar and thought leader by the Office of Head Start, our primary government regulator. Our proposed platform requires us to collaborate with leading academic experts in each domain -- for example, Stephanie Carlson in Executive Function, Doug Clements in Math, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek in early literacy, etc. -- and technologists to build an integrated, direct assessment product. Many of these experts have already either spun off or licensed their creations to vendors in the space, but they have not designed solutions that address the operating reality of teachers, namely that it is impractical to operationalize a whole litany of different assessment tools. Our platform will reflect the following principles: 1) The assessment tool needs to be comprehensive -- not just literacy or math or social emotional development -- so it meets the Head Start Performance Standards and can replace, not supplement, their current system. Very few providers have the stomach for additive work on top of an already exhausting system, and the switching costs are high. 2) For a new child assessment paradigm to take hold, it needs to be easy to administer and train, and for teachers to use, and must be visually appealing to a new generation of teachers, who are more comfortable with technology than with assessment or data. 3) As much as possible within the assessment should be child facing, such that a teacher can assess multiple children at the same time without needing an additional adult in the classroom. 4) The data from the assessment must actually be useful to teachers in the way it is produced.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

The ultimate beneficiaries are low income children who will receive better teaching and whose parents and schools will have better information at their disposal. The immediate beneficiaries are teachers. Early childhood teachers spend hundreds of hours capturing observations, categorizing those observations into dozens of categories, and then trying to translate them into scores. This process is time consuming and grinding, and there is no evidence it results in better outcomes for children. This new paradigm for child assessment will not only save them time, it will also provide better information to inform their teaching -- which will make them more effective in their jobs. The field will also benefit. Early childhood advocates rely on a small number of studies of a small number of children to justify investment in low income children -- but struggle to articulate the immediate impact of public programs. Reliable data with academic rigor that is practical to gather and can be used to inform practice is a holy grail. We have enormous experience working with teachers. We currently serve 5,100 children ages birth-to-five in 47 facilities and close to 250 classrooms and employ more than 500 teaching staff. We also work with 38 programs around the country, which serve an additional 30,000 children, to implement our tools. In our experience, teachers are universally overwhelmed with the labor and underwhelmed with the impact of current child assessment systems.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

The problem of child assessment is the single most important issue facing early childhood education for low income children. We are spending unnecessary teacher time producing unreliable data; we do not really know if kids are making progress based on that data; and we are not differentiating teaching with data. A comprehensive technology solution grounded in the work of the best researchers that reduces teacher time and generates more accurate data will completely change the way Head Start programs function. Children will progress further and faster, parents will have better information, and teachers will be more effective. A game changing product can move the entire field -- and ultimately reset the ROI of ECE at a higher level.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

This idea is entirely focused on low-income children. It could potentially benefit middle income children as well, but our programs serve children below the federal poverty line, and we literally select families on the basis of which have the greatest need. Our mission is to ensure that by the time children leave our program, they are on par with their middle income peers, but without a significant advancement in child assessment, we do not really know whether we are succeeding (absent external evaluation by researchers). Most programs that serve low income children cannot afford researchers. They use the unreliable data they currently capture through observations to determine whether they are succeeding at preparing children and how to improve. Our entire goal is to change that.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (5000 characters)

Our approach is unique because it fundamentally changes the way child assessment data is collected and used in the early childhood space. First, it empowers teachers to invest more energy in teaching and being present in the moment rather than collecting hundreds of data points on each child throughout the school year. Second, it leverages technology that is already successful in K12 and adult education in early childhood in a way that does not currently exist. Third, it integrates disparate platforms and tools by taking the best and most effective elements of each. Fourth, it generates accurate, reliable data that teachers can use each and every day to drive child outcomes, which is vastly different from the teacher-scored data that is available three times a year.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

There are 1,800 organizations around the country running Head Start programs, and our initial focus would be this market. Through our Shine Early Learning division, we have already established a footprint and brand in this market: 38 Head Start programs, serving 30,000 children, use a combination of tools we have developed over the past fifteen years, covering education, family services, and monitoring and analysis. We serve this market through two self sustaining business units -- one which offers ongoing training and technical assistance and the other which provides intensive, onsite, hands on programmatic leadership. Our intention would be to enter the market with our existing partners, with whom we have relationships and an infrastructure through which to provide support for change management. We believe that it would be self-sustaining as an element of these more comprehensive product offerings. The largest barriers to scaling are the market power of the incumbent; the switching costs to programs; and potentially, the infeasibility of separating child assessment from a linked curricular offering. However, we believe that by establishing a foothold, we will drive the entire market to improve quickly and drastically.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

At Acelero Learning, we have a technology team which has managed the $3M development of a child data system, an outsourced five person team of developers, and an education team with a dozen senior leaders with more than 100 years of collective experience. We also have 250 classrooms where we can pilot solutions and 500 teachers to provide input and feedback. Our Head Start program is effectively a laboratory in which we can test solutions. What we lack, however, is risk capital to make an investment in a new technology solution like the one described in this application. We can test it, we can scale it through our existing footprint, we have the expertise in house and the connections to academics doing cutting edge work -- but without an investment in the idea, we cannot develop the tool.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (5000 characters)

We recognize that assessment processes and products are well entrenched in the early childhood assessment space, however, based on our conversations with ECE providers - especially those that serve low income children - as well as experts in the field, the stage is set for a more reliable tool that leverages technology and allows teachers to focus more time on teaching. We believe that organizations continue with the system they have because integrated alternatives don't exist, and if we provide the market with that alternative - in partnership and coordination with existing single-domain tools that have been developed by trusted academic institutions - then organizations would take interest. We also propose working with other partners to test and pilot our approach, which will also aid in the adoption of our vision. This proposed assessment system would be utilized across our network, and we also envision it becoming a part of our Shine Assist and Shine Implement offering. We have thought a great deal about switching costs, and because we operate our own programs, and are deeply familiar with the practice of on-boarding and coaching hundreds of teachers a year, we know that change in education is challenging. That said, this product aims to limit the teacher's role in data collection and scoring, which will vastly reduce the complexity of assessment for all teachers. In addition, the insertion of technology is long overdue and we believe will be a welcome change. Our organization has been successful in the past in breaking down entrenched attitudes, and we propose to leverage the same relationships and communication vehicles we currently use to discuss our message with the field.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (5000 characters)

We have an extensive pilot process at Acelero Learning, which we refer to internally as "Pencil, Pen, Sharpie." We test multiple solutions for each challenge in the Pencil phase in separate geographies, use quantitative and qualitative data to narrow those solutions into one viable option in the Pen phase, which we test in multiple geographies, and then select a final solution for broader rollout in the Sharpie phase. We engage parents, teachers and family advocates in problem definition and brainstorming, as well as during each pilot phase. We are also in the process of initiating an Innovation Review Board, comprised of representatives from each of our delegates, to help determine viability of each pilot. As it applies to our assessment proposal, we currently have two Pencil pilots and one Pen pilot. Each of these pilots tests a small portion of our proposed solution, and we are hoping to learn how our children and teachers' ability to interact with technology, utilize direct assessment data, and improve teaching practices when the assessment burden is reduced. In one of our pilots in our Wisconsin delegate, for example, the Pilot sponsor conducted numerous interviews with teachers as well as reviewed our Employee Opinion Survey to design a pilot that would reduce the assessment burden for teachers. In our technology pilot, which is in the Pen phase in its second year, classrooms in three of four of our delegates are utilizing child facing technology that utilizes direct assessment (vs. observational) to score about 1/5 of the necessary assessment objectives for teachers. While we have learned a great deal about how teachers manage this type of technology in the classroom, we have not yet utilized the software to deliver real-time data to teachers. Our third pilot utilizes direct assessments that are administered by teachers. In the coming year, we are hoping to pilot our proposed "adaptive" assessment approach, which allows teachers to scale back assessments for certain skills and children while assessing other children and skills more frequently than three times a year based on individual needs.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

Since our inception, Acelero Learning has been data driven and focused on outcomes. Our original belief was that we would get better outcomes for children by using the most commonly used methodologies and tools in the market -- but do it better. That meant using observation based assessments. Six years ago, we wanted external validation that we were delivering great outcomes for children and the National Instituted for Early Education Research began conducting pre and post evaluations on children in our program, using the most widely validated assessments, which have been commonly utilized in academic studies. We found three things: 1) we were getting gains far greater than the average Head Start program; 2) the external evaluation did not help us improve practice; and 3) the gains did not correlate to our observation-based assessments. We decided we would make improvements to our system. We made our assessment "lean and mean," eliminating what we considered duplicative domains; we added direct and embedded assessments, to make it easier for teachers; we provided professional development on conducting reliable observations and assessments; and we scaffolded our assessments into our curriculum, so teachers were only conducting them and doing observations at specific times for specific domains. We found that our efforts added rigor to the process -- but that even with all this effort, the data remained unreliable (in that it did not correlate to external evaluations), and it remained the single largest pain point for our teachers. Our recognition was that we have been investing years trying to improve upon a broken construct. We are excited to work in the early childhood space, because we know that the achievement gap begins in infancy, and we believe that every child is capable is succeeding and learning at the highest levels. Thousands of families give us the precious opportunity to work with them and their children, and all of them want their children to succeed. The children in our programs make great gains -- but we are not closing the achievement gap. We are not delivering on our mission. And we believe that the single greatest opportunity to take the next quantum step forward both in our program and in the field is to better understand where are children are at any given time, to help teachers and parents get and use that data, and for teachers to have more time to do what they do best. We are convinced that all of those things can be accomplished.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

We need the right partners, both in technology space and in academia -- some of which we have, some of which we will need to develop. We have worked with many visionary researchers, and we believe that it is possible to identify the most effective language and literacy, math, social emotional, and executive function assessments and integrate them into one elegant tool. We will also need technology expertise, either an existing company, or in-house to develop a tool that meets the needs of teachers.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

We would like to identify technologists and academics who share our vision and are willing to collaborate. We have experienced the work of companies and researchers to be siloed, and to create a product that changes practice in a meaningful way, we need openness to seeing the value of a comprehensive assessment tool.

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

We would like support in telling the story effectively -- to funders as well as to prospective partners. We are completely convinced that this changes the trajectory of our entire field, and based on many conversations with government officials, providers, and academics, we know that many people agree vociferously. However, if we cannot convince those who could make an investment, or researchers who own part of the IP but not all of it, or technologists who could help solve the problem, the idea will go nowhere.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

https://www.linkedin.com/in/henry-wilde-93a3a47 www.acelero.net

[Optional] Attachments: Please upload relevant attachments or graphics or show us how you prototyped.

[Blank]

[Optional] Video: You are invited to submit a 30-60 second video that introduces you and/or your team and your idea.

[Blank]

Mentorship: How was your idea supported? (5000 characters)

[Blank]

Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

Since submission in December, we have made evolved in several ways: 1) we have determined through our pilot processes that teachers are able to individualize and tailor instruction based on timely, accurate assessment information. In other words, the lack of this information has hampered their ability to individualize and push key school readiness skills for individuals within their classroom 2) through our conversations with Head Start experts, we have learned that our approach to assessment is encouraged and considered within the spirit of the Head Start Performance Standards 3) We are in conversations with the author of an executive function direct assessment tool, which has furthered our confidence that an Next Assess system which fuses together best-in-class tools, is possible 4) We have met with a third-party provider of assessment tools that has validated market demand and development feasibility of this product

Name or Organization

Acelero Inc

Geography

Initially, this solution would be used with the 5,100 children that Acelero Learning serves directly in 47 centers in NJ, PA, WI, NV; plus within the 38 other programs in 20 states that currently use our content.

What is your stage of development?

  • Advanced Innovator with 3 to 10+ years of experience in ECD

Type

  • For - Profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Prototyping: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing my idea.

Describe your submission in one clear sentence

Next Assess is an adaptive direct assessment platform for early childhood that provides teachers the reliable, timely data they need to individualize instruction and ultimately close the achievement gap for children in Head Start programs.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

A comprehensive technology solution grounded in the work of the best researchers that reduces teacher time and generates more accurate data will completely change the way Head Start programs function. Children will progress further and faster, parents will have better information, and teachers will be more effective. A game changing product can move the entire field -- and ultimately reset the ROI of ECE at a higher level.

Select an Innovation Target

  • System design: Solutions that target changing larger systems.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

Next Assess aims to revolutionize the way child assessment data is collected, analyzed and acted upon in Head Start programs in the US such that more emphasis can be placed on closing the achievement gap. Instead of relying on observation based data that is generally unreliable and distracting for teachers, we propose a direct-assessment solution that leverages technology to identify children's needs across key school readiness skills in a short amount of time. This solution will provide teachers with data on a weekly and potentially daily basis - which is much more frequently than the current practice of 3x a year - that can then be used to drive individualization and many other beneficial conversations and actions that impact child development.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

Observation based assessment is soul-crushing for teachers and yields minimal data with which to drive instruction and realize our goal of closing the achievement gap.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

The ultimate beneficiaries are low income children who will receive better teaching and whose parents and schools will have better information at their disposal. The immediate beneficiaries are teachers. Early childhood teachers spend hundreds of hours capturing observations, categorizing those observations into dozens of categories, and then trying to translate them into scores. This process is time consuming and grinding, and there is no evidence it results in better outcomes for children. This new paradigm for child assessment will not only save them time, it will also provide better information to inform their teaching -- which will make them more effective in their jobs. The field will also benefit. Early childhood advocates rely on a small number of studies of a small number of children to justify investment in low income children -- but struggle to articulate the immediate impact of public programs. Reliable data with academic rigor that is practical to gather and can be used to inform practice is a holy grail. We have enormous experience working with teachers. We currently serve 5,100 children ages birth-to-five in 47 facilities and close to 250 classrooms and employ more than 500 teaching staff. We also work with 38 programs around the country, which serve an additional 30,000 children, to implement our tools. In our experience, teachers are universally overwhelmed with the labor and underwhelmed with the impact of current child assessment systems.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

The problem of child assessment is the single most important issue facing early childhood education for low income children. We are spending unnecessary teacher time producing unreliable data; we do not really know if kids are making progress based on that data; and we are not differentiating teaching with data. A comprehensive technology solution grounded in the work of the best researchers that reduces teacher time and generates more accurate data will completely change the way Head Start programs function. Children will progress further and faster, parents will have better information, and teachers will be more effective. A game changing product can move the entire field -- and ultimately reset the ROI of ECE at a higher level. Our programmatic approach is to integrate best-in-class content and fidelity of execution in education, family engagement, human capital management and monitoring, systems and analysis. Research shows that Acelero is effectively narrowing the achievement gap. Between 2010 and 2014, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University assessed the math and literacy skills of Acelero students. The researchers found that each year, Acelero students demonstrated greater-than-average gains on in both subjects, and in 2014, the average Acelero student score was more than twice as high as the average for Head Start programs.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

This idea is entirely focused on low-income children. It could potentially benefit middle income children as well, but our programs serve children below the federal poverty line, and we literally select families on the basis of which have the greatest need. Our mission is to ensure that by the time children leave our program, they are on par with their middle income peers, but without a significant advancement in child assessment, we do not really know whether we are succeeding (absent external evaluation by researchers). Most programs that serve low income children cannot afford researchers. They use the unreliable data they currently capture through observations to determine whether they are succeeding at preparing children and how to improve. Our entire goal is to change that.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (1500 characters)

Our approach is innovative because it fundamentally changes the way child assessment data is collected and used in the early childhood space. First, it empowers teachers to invest more energy in teaching and being present in the moment rather than collecting hundreds of data points on each child throughout the school year. Second, it leverages technology that is already successful in K12 and adult education in early childhood in a way that does not currently exist. Third, it integrates disparate platforms and tools by taking the best and most effective elements of each. Fourth, it generates accurate, reliable data that teachers can use each and every day to drive child outcomes, which is vastly different from the teacher-scored data that is available three times a year.

Would you like mentoring support? [Relevant only for Early Submission Deadline]

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters) [Relevant only for Early Submission Deadline]

[NA]

Mentorship: How was your idea supported? [Relevant only for our early submission participants] (1500 characters)

[Blank]

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

5 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Serena Liu
Team

Like this idea. Both parents and teachers can have a better understanding of children.

View all comments