Renaissance Learning Acquires UClass to Link Instruction, Assessment

Associate Editor

Renaissance Learning, one of the largest assessment and learning analytics companies in the K-12 marketplace, has acquired UClass, a company that offers school districts a cloud-based storage and content management platform for curricula.

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While financial details of the transaction were not disclosed, the acquisition represents the value that Renaissance Learning places on the promise of a relative newcomer to the marketplace.

Zak Ringelstein, the CEO of San Francisco-based UClass, which he co-founded in 2012 after teaching for three years in Phoenix and one in Tanzania, said in a phone interview that his company received its initial cash infusion of over $10,000 in funding from the crowdfunding website Indiegogo. Last year,  UClass received $1 million in seed funding from Golden Angel Investors, Social+Capital Partnership, and Ezra Callahan.

Renaissance was purchased for $1.1 billion in 2014. 

Renaissance CEO Jack Lynch said that what made a small, early-stage company attractive was its “best-in-class” focus on “making it really easy for district administrators and teachers to download, tag, and share resources.” (Disclosure: Lynch serves on an advisory board for an editorial product under development from Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit publisher of Education Week, about the K-12 marketplace.)

UClass reports that its product is used in more than 5,000 schools and has more than 16 million pieces of learning content preloaded into its database, including lesson plans, instructional videos, and digital games.

While teachers can tag the content to appropriate standards for their respective states, Lynch’s larger plan is for the content—whether purchased by the district, created or shared by educators, or an open resource—to be tagged to the learning progressions that are part of Renaissance Learning’s suite of offerings.

“We use computer-adaptive testing. The distinction I draw between computer-adaptive instructional systems and what we’re proposing is that the teacher is the architect of the learning experience,” said Lynch, whose company is based in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. “They’re making the decision whether or not they’re going to assign those resources.”

Lynch said he plans to keep the UClass team in place after the acquisition, which was finalized on Tuesday.

Ringelstein, who was named one of Forbes magazine’s “30 Under 30” for education this year, said he has been impressed by how much Renaissance supports and values teachers. Last year, Renaissaince used a “contextual design” process, gathering data by following teachers to see where there are “pain points” in their work flow. The company discovered that teachers spend 7.5 hours per week doing instructional planning, trying to bridge the gap between assessment and instruction, Lynch said. That led to the process by which UClass was identified as an acquisition canddiate.

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