By guest blogger Kevin Connors
In many K-12 classrooms, student reading levels cross the board. In a 9th grade English class, for example, a teacher may have some students who read at an 11th grade level, others at a 6th grade, and many in between. Choosing the right text, one that is challenging for the top performers but accessible and interesting for the rest, can be difficult and seemingly impossible.
Well, Newsela says it’s here to help.
The New York City-based startup, who just received $4.1 million in Series A funding, offers a website and app that provides current news articles written at various reading levels. An Associated Press article on a Presidential election, for example, can be presented in its original form, or easily modified to a lower reading level at a click of a button. This simple and discrete modification not only prevents students from feeling left out, but also allows teachers to have more fruitful class discussions about the same text.
If its model succeeds, one based on intervention and differentiation among students, students benefit, Newsela officials say.
The round was led by Owl Ventures, with contributions also from Cambridge Information Group, Knight Enterprise Fund, and returning investors NewSchools Venture Fund and Kapor Capital. Individual investors also participated.
Newsela raised $1.2 million in a seed round in the fall of 2013, according to Crunchbase. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has also previously awarded a $100,000 grant to the literacy startup.
Registration for the app is free and allows teachers and students to download not only different versions of each news article, but also accompanying comprehension quizzes. A premium, paid model is also offered to schools and districts, which allows teachers real-time access to student progress on assignments.
Currently, as the Wall Street Journal reported, Newsela is registering about 20,000 users per day. That type of growth, along with the common core’s emphasis on nonfiction texts, made Newsela an attractive candidate for investors.
The company says it will likely use the new funds for hiring and product development, including expansion of its content coverage and news features that provide deeper feedback to students and teachers.
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