New York iZone Tests Edtech Startup Efficacy

New York iZone Tests Edtech Startup Efficacy


Last fall, twelve companies from New York City iZone’sGap App Challenge won the opportunity to test their tools in NYC classrooms, with the main goal of collaborating with and collecting feedback from educators.

This fall a new set of companies will be put to the test in NYC, but this time the stakes are higher. It’s all about efficacy--learning whether products work and if schools are willing to pay for them, all in the span of three months. “Our goal is to develop an evaluation model to quickly determine whether the products are as effective as vendors say or the school hopes,” says Steven Hodas, Executive Director for the Office of Innovation at New York City Department of Education.

These short term efficacy studies, funded by a $350,000 grant from the Gates Foundation, aim to create a quick and effective model schools can use to evaluate whether a product will have the intended effect, whether a school should keep it or move on to the next one. The iZone was one of three organizations to receive the grant along with New Schools for Chicago and the Bay Area Innovation Hub.

The search for participating companies began in spring 2014. Companies who applied were evaluated according to a framework developed in partnership with Edtechnos Evaluator, an advisory firm made up of members from Good Harbor Partners and evaluators from John Hopkins University. The Boston-based firm took a look at over 40 companies and rated them on a rubric that focused on three key criteria: teacher needs, product readiness and company capacity.

Once each company received a score, it was up to the iZone team to match them with teachers. “It’s kind of like matchmaking, like running a dating website. You can’t just drop any products into any school and expect to learn something,” says Hodas. The iZone tried to match teachers based on the product readiness and teachers’ interests, which included data or visualization of student progress, Common Core-aligned content, real-world learning lessons and inquiry or project-based lessons.

Each of these companies will trial their products in up to three different classrooms this fall:

  • Wowzers: Online learning platform providing story-driven games and activities covering core math curriculum for students in grades;
  • Motion Math: Suite of learning games fostering an intuitive sense of math in players;
  • LightSail: Tablet-based literacy tools provide standards aligned texts, questions and dashboard;
  • BuzzMath: Middle school math problems with instant feedback, solutions and student data/ reports;
  • Edusight: Online gradebook for K-12 teachers;
  • OpenSchool: Assessment and assignment creation tool that develops ongoing student ePortfolios.

The iZone hopes by the end of the year it will have a well-developed and effective process for evaluating edtech tools. “Teachers can’t possibly rate every possible developer approaching them. Today, they have no way of finding high quality developers who address the problems they care about,” says Dean Millot, Managing Partner of K12 Good Harbor Partners.

The iZone plans to share what they learn by the end of the year, including its framework for evaluating products, with the hopes to make identifying effective products easier for schools and teachers.

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