Jefferson Education Accelerator Names Formative as Partner

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The ed-tech provider Formative is the latest business to receive support from a commercial accelerator that gives companies investment dollars in exchange for holding their products up to research.

The Jefferson Education Accelerator says that it will make an equity investment in the company and cooperate with it in conducting quasi-experimental research on the effectiveness of its use of formative assessment data on teaching and learning.

So far, the JEA says it has invested in six companies that fall into the K-12 category, and four in the world of higher education.

Formative, as its name suggests, sells a platform that the company says helps teachers identify and respond to students’ specific needs, and transform assignments, assessments, and classroom tasks to meet their demands.

In a statement, the CEO of the accelerator, Bart Epstein, called Formative the “definition of a research-to-practice organization.”

“Formative has already shown great promise in terms of scale. Its platform, designed to support the practice of ‘formative teaching,’ is used by teachers in over one-third of U.S. districts,” he said. The investment, he said, will help “further Formative’s impact and identify best practices that can advance the field of assessment.”

Craig Jones, the CEO of Formative, said the seeds of the company were planted while he was a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, and grew out of research showing that schools benefited from “accelerating the feedback cycle.”

Since it was launched in 2015, the JEA has made investments in businesses ranging from $25,000 to $750,000, Epstein said in an e-mail to Marketplace K-12. It doesn’t disclose individual amounts given to businesses, he said, because sometimes they are looking for advice or cooperation in ways that don’t involve financial investment.

The accelerator asks ed-tech companies to have their products put through independent reviews–in theory, giving them the chance to prove that their product is backed by evidence of success. The accelerator invests in the businesses, with the idea of receiving financial returns designed to sustain the JEA.

The Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia is helping advise the accelerator on the research process.

The work of the JEA has evolved in unexpected ways since its inception, Epstein said. One surprise has been the sheer number of K-12 district officials who have told JEA officials they’re inundated with promises and pitches from ed-tech companies, without any way to evaluate them.

The accelerator doesn’t have the resources to do customized analyses of all of those districts, to address their ed-tech needs. So to meet that demand, it has begun writing “sector reports” and making them available to K-12 systems, based on their top concerns.

K-12 officials have, for example, craved more information about instructional data tools, Epstein said. So the JEA did more research on those tools and is sharing them with districts it works with.

“When we find products that we hear are making a difference in a district, we let [them] know if that company is open to having us do one or two faculty-supervised pilots that are designed to generate high quality data from a real implementation.”

Correction: The original version of this post underestimated the amount of the investments the JEA is making in individual businesses.

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