Featured Startup Pitch: Founded by a group of teachers with tech backgrounds, ActiveGrade seeks to fundamentally change the way grading is done in schools

By Editor October 17, 2012
Michal Eynon-Lynch, ActiveGrade

ActiveGrade logoCompany: ActiveGrade

Website: www.activegrade.com

Founders: Dan Sweeney, Riley Eynon-Lynch, Michal Eynon-Lynch

Headquarters: Iowa City, Iowa

Investors: Angel investors

Twitter: @ActiveGrade

Facebook: facebook.com/ActiveGrade

Brief Company Description: ActiveGrade focuses grades on learning not on points and ranks.


Michal Eynon-Lynch, ActiveGradeBy Michal Eynon-Lynch, co-founder and Director of Meaningful Connections

Product Overview

ActiveGrade changes the focus of grading. Traditional gradebooks track what assignments students have completed and what cumulative scores they’ve received on tests. But that data isn’t useful in determining a student’s strengths and weaknesses or in guiding them. ActiveGrade helps teachers track what students have learned. By naming clear course goals and measuring students’ mastery of them, teachers can make daily planning decisions based on current student needs. At the same time, students are provided with feedback they can understand; they can then engage their teachers in reasonable discussions about course content rather than arguments over grades and points.

Founders’ Story

It all started at Scattergood Friends School, a really unique boarding school with its own organic farm and community-focused learning. Riley and I were both high school teachers there (Riley in math and science, Michal in history and drama). One year, we both became a part of a PLC (Professional Learning Community) focused on assessment within our school. As we learned about different assessment practices, we decided to try Standards-Based Grading in our own classrooms. Implementing it in math and humanities courses posed different challenges and we each come up with different excel documents to try to keep track of all our data.

As a former programmer, Riley began thinking of all the ways he could design a program that would track student mastery in meaningful ways and make it easier to share feedback with students.

Over spring break he called me up and said “I’ve been thinking. I think we should leave our jobs, buy a house, start a company, and get married.”

And that’s what we did.

In the fall as Riley began programming he immediately realized his beautifying talents did not match his programming talents and began searching for a designer to contract with. Dan came up in a local search of designers and was the most expensive. Riley, deciding that must mean Dan was talented, asked for a meeting. Dan, having had experience teaching design, saw the value in the idea. He quickly wanted to be more than a contractor. They incorporated and at the first official board meeting I became an official partner as well.

I feel really lucky in how the team came together. Dan and Riley’s technical expertise complement each other really well and they are both excellent at what they do. We couldn’t have built ActiveGrade as fast as we have without that level of talent. It’s also a great personality fit and we are all able to work through tricky conversations with respect. It just feels really lucky that Riley found Dan so quickly.

Marketing/Promotion Strategy

Our initial market has been individual, passionate teachers who are looking to improve their assessment and feedback practices. These initial customers and beta users have become our advocates on Twitter, their personal blogs, and in their schools. Now we are seeing interest from departments, schools, and even districts.

We also offer many free resources to help teachers get started with standards-based grading as well as professional development workshops for our schools.

How We Differentiate from the Competition

ActiveGrade is focused on engaging students in their own learning process by helping teachers give them specific feedback about their strengths and weaknesses. At the same time ActiveGrade enables teachers to make well-informed daily planning decisions by displaying all their assessment data in useful ways. We do all this by keeping teachers focused on how well students are mastering the specific content and skill goals of the class. ActiveGrade is not concerned with a specific test grade but with how well the student understands the concepts assessed on the test. Other gradebooks put attention on test grades, homework scores and extra credit. In such systems the important information (how well students are learning the intended material) gets lost; in ActiveGrade it is the sole focus.

Business Model

We make money through subscription plans, support packages, and professional development workshops. Solo teachers pay a reduced rate; we know there are many teachers out there who want better tools but clearly can’t afford the enterprise prices. We want to make it possible for dedicated teachers to implement standards-based feedback in their classrooms even if the whole school isn’t ready for that shift.

Current Needs

We initially bootstrapped and then received Angel funding. To make ourselves available to a wider audience, we are interested in additional funding or a strategic partnership with a product that has complementary features.

We are always on the lookout for great additions to the team. We have found that when we aren’t actively looking, we seem to find some of the best people.

ActiveGrade – www.activegrade.com