Formative, a student learning and analytics platform, raises $ 70 million to challenge summative, test-based approach to education – TechCrunch

Tests are king in many school systems and other educational environments: they are seen as an effective way to assess the knowledge that students have retained and their results on an equal footing where everyone has the same exam to take. .

Some, however, believe the system is flawed, and today a startup that has built a platform to provide another way to assess and teach is announcing big funding on the heels of strong growth for his approach.

Formative – a platform for K-12 teachers to deliver homework from other digital sources and learning platforms, assess how students are dealing with them, help them based on those results, and then Using progressive homework to build a larger picture and How This Student Acquires Knowledge has raised $ 70 million, funding he will use to continue to expand the reach of his platform.

The funding is being led by previous investors from Summit Partners, Fika Ventures, Mac Ventures and Rethink Education, who are also participating, among others. Formative does not disclose its valuation, but it is described as a minority investment.

More importantly, this is a major milestone for the startup, which was founded in Santa Monica, Calif., In 2011 and had raised less than $ 7 million previously.

The funding, however, corresponds to the performance of the startup. Following a major surge in interest in digital learning tools – spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic, the subsequent closure of physical schools and a huge shift towards distance learning – Formative says its plate -form is already in the majority of US school districts (especially 92% of all US school districts have at least one registered teacher); that over four million students have engaged with “Formatives” (as homework is casually called); and that it has annual recurring revenue growth of approximately 700%.

And in keeping with this momentum, Formative has many ambitious plans for funding. They include the creation of more analytical tools for teachers and administrators as well as for parents and students; bring Formative to more international markets (it is currently most active in English-speaking countries); and more generally (and perhaps most importantly) building a technology that helps the system rethink what quality education might look like, what form it should take.

“One of our big goals going forward is to really help be a bridge to assess the rigor and effectiveness of different study programs,” said Craig Jones, CEO who co-founded Formative with Kevin McFarland. (the COO), in an interview. . “We use all the data we’ve collected, the billions of student responses to facilitate a bigger picture, information about student learning, to the necessary stakeholders. This can give rise to many different things that we can help our schools, teachers and parents use this data to, ultimately, foster further learning. “

Jones and McFarland came up with the idea for the Formative startup while they were working on doctorates in education at UCLA, where they were examining how different teaching approaches might prove to be more effective than traditional learning methods. Formative the startup takes its name from the idea of formative assessment, where teachers provide regular, sustained assessment to check in on students and change the way they teach to help them learn. In many ways, this opposes an overreliance on summative assessment or the idea of ​​concluding learning and assessing on the basis of a final test, although in practice , even a shift to a more formative assessment can still help a student better prepare for these final summative assessments.

While the idea behind formative assessments has been around for some time, Jones and McFarland’s breakthrough was realizing that the concept could really be scaled up and extended if it were digitized, as it would allow for a efficient task delivery and much more data collection. , visualization, communication and analysis.

This concept, of course, has taken on a whole new profile over the past year and a half: schools and teachers who had already invested in the idea of ​​using more digital tools, and perhaps even Formative it. – even, have intensified their commitment; and they were joined by a new wave of educators scrambling to fill the great void created by the closure of schools to slow the spread of Covid-19, who previously could have had a very tenuous engagement with online learning . This has had a big impact on much of the edtech industry, with e-learning companies like Kahoot also seeing a big increase in their use (and taking greater initiative in managing the industry). learning by acquiring tools like Clever), as well as a plethora of other vendors. .

Formative also seized the opportunity and set up something it called the Covid-19 Assistance Program, offering free access to its platform – which is normally price in different levels, starting free for a basic service, then moving to $ 12 and $ 17 or “contact us” depending on the number of teachers using the platform which allows for more integrations, more analytics, and so on. Some 5,000 teachers and schools signed up for the free service, Jones said, and McFarland noted that as schools reopened, this continued in what has definitely been an evolving engagement with technology for many in the room. class. (And not all of them are so quick to change: my children’s secondary school in London still strictly forbids people from using ‘screens’ in school and in classrooms.)

“There has been a very big change in the United States, where there are now more devices in classrooms than there are students,” said McFarland, who said many are adopting. a hybrid approach by saying, effectively, ‘if we want to use this, we can use it but not necessarily rely on it every day.’

“This is where you will see a lot of flexibility,” he continued. “They use a device, not a toy. We try to work a lot in this flexible hybrid environment.

The approach she has taken is to make her system work as transparently as possible for teachers, not only by integrating with all “native” learning materials on digital platforms, but also by creating digitized versions of the most popular publications, and the ones they use as part of their curriculum, also something teachers can call up and assign through Formative. In this regard, it is not a learning content business, but rather a channel to make the content that is there, more accessible and more useful. It also relates to other tools such as learning management systems when used to create a more efficient overall process.

It is a model that has resonated with educators and investors.

“Formative helps accelerate student learning, save teachers time, and quantify outcomes for school and district administrators,” Tom Jennings, CEO of Summit Partners, said in a statement. “We believe Formative has a rare combination of rapid and efficient capital growth, innovative products, delighted customers and a humble, mission-driven team. We admire the way Craig, Kevin and the team have built the business and look to our partnership to help Formative accelerate product improvements and the continued global expansion of the business. Jennings joins the Formative Board of Directors with this round.

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