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Chartlytics: Changing Education’s Future

Think back to your childhood schooldays and take yourself back to the classroom. It didn’t matter which grade you were in — the educational platform remained the same for everyone.

Come to class, pay attention, absorb the information, take notes, study, and be tested on said information. If results weren’t as expected, it certainly wasn’t the teacher’s fault — you didn’t study hard enough, your notes were no good, etc. But, what if somebody altered the entire framework of that model and the mindset behind it.

Enter Chartlytics.

Co-founder and Penn State graduate Dave Stevens calls the basis of his software “evidenced-based learning,” because it breaks apart from the general mold of education today. It brings the focus to the individual student, and the results speak for themselves. But the software that’s so rapidly altering the educational landscape as we know it today began as a simple idea hatched after a chance meeting between two progressive minds. 

Stevens and Dr. Rick Kubina, a professor of special education at Penn State since 2000, met one another at a Ben Franklin Techcelerator program in 2013. The program, run by government-funded accelerator investment company Ben Franklin Technology Partners, allows entrepreneurs and businesspeople alike to commercialize their ideas and help them come to fruition. The Techcelerator program serves as a 12-week boot-camp of sorts for innovators to provide them the necessary skills to run a business. These innovative minds aren’t handheld through the process; the Techcelerator program puts them — and their respective ideas — to the test. “They make you ask all sorts of hard questions like ‘How are you going to make money?’ or ‘Who wants it?'” Stevens said of the program.

Included in the process is a final presentation that requires the innovator to present their idea to a group of panelists — think Shark Tank style — in hopes of earning the $10,000 prize. Among the panelists was Stevens, who heard Kubina’s pitch. While Kubina’s efforts fell short, something about the idea struck a chord with Stevens — namely, its focus on education. “I was really intrigued with his approach,” Stevens said. “I’m a serial entrepreneur, this is my third software company, and I really wanted to focus on something meaningful.”

The two met soon after over coffee and discussed the idea at length. Though the idea was still in its earlier phases, the focus wasn’t to cover a small scale — the two knew they had something that could make a global difference.

***

The software quickly emerged from its beta stage and went live in May of 2015. This revolutionary idea is already revamping the way schools educate those struggling in certain areas of study. The irony is, it’s the most logical way of attacking the issue — but Stevens and Kubina found a vessel to properly put it to action. To put it one way, Chartlytics positively juxtaposes the very issue it’s working to solve; instead of faulting the learner for unsuccessfully retaining information in a one-track form of educating, it places the onus on instructors by helping them tailor the learning to the individual student. “Our belief is that the learner knows best how to learn — we all learn differently,” Stevens said. “It’s up to the teaching and the education system to adapt teaching and intervention and tailor it to the individual student, and that’s what our software really does.” 

Chartlytics currently focuses on two aspects of education. The first is applied behavioral analysis with a primary focus on autism. While Stevens says the software wasn’t specifically invented to assist those with autism, he says it excels in that area. The second focus is on special education with an emphasis on students placed on Individual Education Plans, or IEPs for short. To clarify, students are placed on IEPs if they’re, say, underperforming academically or if they have a behavioral disorder. The goal of an IEP is for the student to reach a benchmark of “good academic progress,” but Stevens says that’s the very reason IEPs aren’t nearly as effective as they should be.

“More and more parents are taking the schools to due process,” Stevens explained. “Due process is a legal preceding where the parent has a problem with how the school performed within the IEP. For example, maybe the goals they defined were really poor.”

Stevens uses success in mathematics as an example. Say a school sets a benchmark of good academic progress as “succeeding in math.” What does that mean? The loose definitions detract the teacher and student from achieving the actual goal — how can one be successful if a concrete benchmark hasn’t been set? What’s worse, if the student is unable to hit that benchmark and make significant progress, nobody wins. Students may be required to repeat entire grades, meaning they’ll be even further behind in their studies than they were before starting the IEP. On the opposite side, the financial implications can be costly for educators. On average, the cost of putting one student through general education in the state of Pennsylvania is $13,000. That number surges for students placed in IEPs falling somewhere between $40,000-150,000. Remember, that’s one student. All on the school’s dime. Chartlytics is helping to solve that problem.

without-aims-you-re-aimless-google-docs_orig
Here’s an example of a chart with what the pair call “Aim Stars” that helps track progress to the smallest detail.

The precision teaching aspect of the software is making learning fun again for students. “Deliberate practice is a big proponent of ours in what we do,” Stevens said. “We help people do it very simply.” Using precise benchmarks and attainable goals — not to mention every little piece of data being recorded as the student progresses — Chartlytics isn’t only allowing the student to learn, but it’s doing so at a remarkable rate. 

Take a look at the software in action. In this reading exercise, the young female student only read 10 words correctly and 11 incorrectly per minute. After 405 minutes split into 30 different sessions of deliberate practice using Chartlytics, she began reading 69 words per minute correctly to only one incorrect. Tangible progress in its most efficient form.

Stevens can apply the same principle every field of study. The goal of the software is to build a base that allows the student to progress to each level of learning in their respective subject. If a base doesn’t exist, how is a student expected to learn? “Today, in most schools, the teacher doesn’t really know quantitatively how well that student’s progressing until the gradebook’s developed — say three months after the fact,” Stevens said. “You just lost three months of time with that student. It’s already too late. If you’re behind in your math facts, for instance, it’s going to be very hard for you to do algebra because you’re going to focus a lot on just doing your multiplication math facts, and not any time working on the algorithms to do algebra. That goes all the way up.” 

But once learning occurs, it sticks. Once it sticks, it becomes enjoyable. While some educators believe in rewarding students with material objects for learning, Stevens believes the software he and Kubina perfected actually makes learning itself the reward. That’s not only effective — it’s changing the culture of education. The quest to make education fun for students is an ostensibly tall task for educators. I say ostensibly because, in creating a platform that allows students to chart progress from the smallest to the largest detail and actually succeed, the innovative pair accomplished that task. Every classroom they’ve walked into, they’ve seen the impact their software has made on the enjoyment facet of learning.

“Learning is the actual reward. If you’re learning and progressing, and you see yourself learning and progressing, kids are excited,” Stevens said. “Behavior problems go down in the classroom, attendance goes up, your confidence is up, and your participation is through the roof.”

***

The future of education is rooted in technology — a notion Stevens realized after what could’ve been seen as a routine interaction with his friend’s young daughter during a visit in California after the successful sale of his previous company in 2010, one that still employs a team in State College working for the company that absorbed his last venture. “I was just on the hunt for something better,” Stevens said. “I visited a friend from college, and he’s got three young girls. I had my iPad out, and his two-year-old takes it and just starts using it! She’s never used anything like it before, but started playing around with some paint program! That’s when I realized this was the future.”

Something Stevens reiterated throughout was that he’s not pursuing this venture for money — although it’s already generating international interest. Stevens does recognize the importance of capital in allowing ideas to come to fruition. “You need assets to make change,” he said. Ironically enough, he took a sip of coffee out of the mug he filled about a half hour prior to our conversation. Printed on the mug was a quote from Ben Franklin Technology Partners that read, “The keys to success: figure it out before you run out of money, and remember cash is key.”

The ceiling for this software is seemingly limitless. It’s been live for more than a year, and it’s already changing the educational landscape. Narrowing the scope, he says he hopes Chartlytics can transform how students on IEPs measure goal-oriented progress and, in time, actually cross over into the general education landscape, where he says the stakes are significantly higher in terms of education effectiveness. “We teach to the 50th percentile right now,” Stevens said. “What if we were teaching to everyone on the 75th percentile? What would happen to the world if we raise that bar 25 points?”

As a student who experienced his fair share of struggles in certain areas — more than the average student, you could say — the idea Stevens and Kubina brought to reality resonates for me. These two innovators get it. They say their short-term goal is for their software to make a dent in the number of students they’re reaching, but the sky is the limit for this company. They’ve partnered with a significant amount of schools already offering affordable, structured deals — even a free option that allows educators to familiarize themselves with the software.

Chartlytics is changing education as we know it. Soon, the stigma of “slow learners” will hopefully be completely eradicated. Because there is no such thing as a slow learner — that’s closed-minded thinking.

Learning isn’t concrete. It’s universal. These men recognized that everybody learns differently, and their product might just become the new standard in education.

About the Author

David Abruzzese

David is a senior from Rochester, NY, nestled right in beautiful Western New York. He is majoring in Broadcast Journalism, and as an avid sports fan, he passionately supports the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres. He is the first Penn Stater from his family, and couldn’t be prouder to represent Penn State University. In his free time, he likes to alpine ski, and play golf. You can follow him on Twitter @abruz11, and can contact him via email at [email protected]

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