Ex-teachers look to sharpen focus of student feedback with ActiveGrade
ActiveGrade provides students a color-coded breakdown of their academic performance, which aims to gauge mastery of concepts rather than assignments.
It wasn't long ago that Michal Eynon-Lynch (far left) and Riley Eynon-Lynch (near left) made their living as teachers, educating students on subjects like math and science, history and humanities. Now, the wife and husband are getting an education of their own — on bootstrapping a startup.
The Eynon-Lynches, along with designer Dan Sweeney, make up the team behind ActiveGrade, an online gradebook that organizes information based on what concepts or skills students have mastered rather than what assignments they have completed.
"What sets us apart is our total focus on the concepts instead of the assignments," Michal said in an email interview. "If you are a parent and you see that your child got a 'C' on the unit exam, you might be upset that your child didn’t do better. It just looks like he didn’t really study. However, it might be that your child demonstrated understanding of many of the concepts on the test but is really struggling with one or two of them. That’s a different set of information and, frankly, much more important than the 'C.' "
A web-based system that allows one view for teachers and another for parents and students, ActiveGrade features a color-coded gradebook intended to allow teachers to quickly identify which concepts need more attention and which of their students are struggling.
"Our focus in on helping teachers analyze assessment data quickly to inform their instruction and on enabling meaningful interactions between teachers and students about learning," Michal said. "While we want to help teachers focus instruction, we also hope that the information ActiveGrade makes available to students will empower them to take more ownership in their learning process."
(Left: A teacher's view of ActiveGrade provides a color-coded overview of students by topic.)
Michal and Riley saw inadequacies in other grading systems in their previous job, as high school teachers in eastern Iowa. So they began tinkering with a system of their own. "We began researching Standards-Based Grading (SBG) and experimenting with it in the classroom," Michal said. "We kept track of everything in spreadsheets."
But they soon found those spreadsheets were falling short, and in the spring of 2010 there was an epiphany. Riley, who has a background in programming, called Michal during spring break with a big idea. "I think I could make an awesome tool for SBG," he told her, "and I think we should leave (school) to give it a try."
They relocated to Iowa City during the summer of 2010, and Riley began programming work that fall. Michal joined the company in a full-time capacity, as director of outreach, in January of 2011. Sweeney (left), who has done design work for ActiveGrade on a part time basis since 2010, will join the company in a full-time role on Monday.
After conducting beta testing in early 2011 and recruiting pilot schools and departments last spring and summer — the company picked up a prize from the University of Iowa's New Venture Challenge along the way — ActiveGrade launched with a couple hundred paying customers in the fall.
ActiveGrade operates on a subscription basis, with customers paying $5 or $7 per month, depending on which tier of the service they use. Paying customers can save on their subscriptions by purchasing year-long subscriptions. A free tier is also available.
The startup, which is up against competition like PowerSchool, Infinite Campus and JupiterGrades, has bootstrapped so far, but Michal said the company is currently in talks with investors. ActiveGrade also just brought together a teacher advisory board of educators from across the country who will help guide the company's direction.
Asked about that direction and what's on the horizon for ActiveGrade, Michal couldn't hide her excitement.
"Ahh! So much exciting stuff," she said. "We are focusing this semester on smoothing out the set up process; we want to make it as easy and intuitive as possible for teachers to get their gradebook configured the way they like it. Following that, we have a long and thrilling roadmap of features that will continue to support the positive transformations we are seeing in the way schools conceive of the purpose of grading and assessment."
Here's an ActiveGrade introduction video posted to the company's YouTube page:
Image credits: Screenshots and photos courtesy of Michal Eynon-Lynch.