K-12 Dealmaking: Newsela Leans Into Classroom Assessment With Acquisition of Formative

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Newsela acquires Formative, EdWeek Market Brief

Newsela, known for providing curated online educational content tiered at different reading levels, is seeking to vastly expand its delivery of real-time assessments through the newly announced acquisition of another company, Formative.

Formative provides educators with quick-turnaround information and data on student learning so that teachers can make on-the-fly adjustments to instruction in the classroom.

Newsela offers its users a library of about 15,000 texts, drawn from news articles and other sources. The acquisition will allow the company to weave Formative’s assessments and data analysis across its content, which the company says covers social studies, English-language arts, science and social-emotional learning.

While Newsela already has some elements of formative assessment – basically, real-time assessments of student learning meant to guide instruction — woven into its platform, the acquisition expands that capability on many fronts, said Newsela CEO Pep Carrera.

“What we haven’t unlocked for teachers is the ability for them, in a district, to collaborate around it, nor do we have the breadth and scope of assessment types that Formative has,” said Carrera in an interview.

Pep Carrera
Pep Carrera

Bringing Formative into the fold “was a really obvious answer for us,” he added. “It’s a really great and compelling platform for assessment that administrators really enjoy using and get really good data out of. [And] teachers enjoy using the content.”

The Newsela executive spoke to EdWeek Market Brief during this week’s ISTE conference, a major gathering of classroom educators, companies, advocates, and others focused on ed tech. The event is being held this year in Philadelphia.

Carrera was named CEO of Newsela earlier this year, after previously leading the ed-tech provider Nearpod.

A Changing Assessment Landscape

Newsela will look to make other acquisitions, though not immediately, he said. Carrera sees the Formative acquisition as “transformative,” adding that the company is focused on making sure it has the broad impact both sides envisioned.

“We’d like to unlock that value for our customers, first, before we do something else,” he said.

He declined to comment on the terms of the deal. The acquisition is effective immediately.

Formative was founded by Craig Jones and Kevin McFarland when they were graduate students at UCLA in 2013. The company estimates that over the past year, 4 million students have engaged with its resources.

It’s amazing how infrequently students get brought up in the assessment category, especially classroom assessments. But we try to make their experience a lot better.Craig Jones, Co-Founder, Formative

Up until now, Formative has operated as a “bring-your-own-content kind of platform,” in which teachers upload a wide variety of academic documents, Jones said in an interview. All of those documents could then be annotated with questions, through which educators gauge student understanding of the materials.

The acquisition will expand user options by giving them a robust array of in-house, original content from Newsela.

Over time, Formative has become a “Swiss army knife” for districts and schools in that they end up using it for a broad array of not only quick-hit assessments, but also more expansive reviews of student learning of academic content, Jones said.

Beyond its uses for teachers and district administrators, the platform is designed to enhance the experience for students – who make up about 95 percent of its users, he said.

“It’s amazing how infrequently students get brought up in the assessment category, especially classroom assessments,” Jones said. “But we try to make their experience a lot better.”

Newsela has about 400 employes and Formative roughly 70. As co-founder of Formative, Jones will remain with the newly merged organization, and he said his organization, its staffing structure, and his role will remain largely the same.

“The reason that we were doing this is to make sure our mission, which was to accelerate student learning, and our vision, which was to be the most loved formative assessment platform, continues,” Jones said.

Carrera said the two organizations share a belief that their combined platforms can serve the needs of both classroom educators who want to be able to make nimble adjustments to their instruction, and district administrators, who want big-picture data on what’s working in classrooms.

He also said the acquisition fits the spirit of the times, as many state and local policymakers are looking for assessments that help improve instruction, rather than just deliver reports on student learning long after the fact.

“The state-level summative assessment that’s done once a year is definitely on the [way] out,” he said. “Think of assessment moving from once a year to every day – and/or as often as it makes sense for that particular customer.”

This post has been updated with comments from Formative Co-Founder Craig Jones.

Image by Getty

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