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Ed tech: Filling a market gap for English Language Learner educators

This is part of a blog series that focuses on how the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation approaches impact investing. In this series, you will read about the foundation’s investment strategy in a particular ed tech solution, and each company’s mission to solve an existing problem in education. You can find the full series here.

Micah Sagebiel: Backing a new solution for ELL educators

In my last blog, I discussed how the foundation’s approach to impact investing has grown and expanded over the years. Our investment in Ellevation Education (Ellevation) is one example of the diverse investment approaches we take to help provide educators access to needed innovations. What was unique about this investment was that we structured it as a grant. It was not typical for us to invest in for-profit companies in the form of grants, but we saw Ellevation’s product as unique and necessary to help solve known challenges of educators serving ELL students in Texas.

Like many states, Texas has a quickly growing ELL student population – and educators serving these students face increasingly complex regulatory requirements to track student interventions and outcomes. A dearth of solutions designed specifically for Texas ELL educators existed in the market. However, due to finite resources and a long list of early-stage company priorities, Ellevation was not positioned to adapt its tool to the Texas market without outside support. With knowledge of the ELL tool market gap – and a plan to elicit input from Texas educators in the design of the Ellevation tool – the foundation partnered with the company. What emerged was a new tool available to school districts across Texas designed with input from ELL educators on their specific wants and needs.

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Jordan Meranus: Ellevation’s Texas story:

ELL students must learn grade-level core subject matter while simultaneously developing their English language fluency—no easy task. Nationally, a clear achievement gap exists between ELL students and their non-ELL peers . And educators trying to close that gap face a complex regulatory and instructional environment. We have worked to create best-in-class administrative and data management tools that help ELL professionals improve instruction, enhance collaboration, and “do more with less” by streamlining paperwork and compliance burdens. The fast-growing ELL student population only adds to our mission’s urgency.

When the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation reached out to our company in 2013, we had already established ourselves as the leader in online solutions for ELL educators. However, we had not yet entered Texas due to the product modifications the state would need given their unique policies and instructional environment. Texas, with almost one million English Language Learners, has as many ELL students as Florida and New York combined. But the state doesn’t participate in either existing consortium and thus has unique ELL standards—which called for unique modifications to Ellevation’s tools.

"Our mission is to help English Language Learners realize their highest aspirations. Our solution is aimed at supporting teachers because we know that the success of our nation’s underserved students is closely tied to effective teaching."

The foundation’s grant let us quickly bring solutions to Texas schools by offsetting our cost to customize the tool for Texas standards and process and build momentum with a series of success pilots in major Texas districts. This is something we couldn’t have done nearly as fast or efficiently on our own.

Texas districts have seen tremendous benefit from using Ellevation, including saving time and delivering more consistent services to ELL students. For example, in Texas, all decisions about ELL students—from program placement and classroom or test accommodations to program exit and post-exit monitoring—must be made by a Language Proficiency Assessment Committee (LPAC) to ensure students are effectively served. Traditionally done manually or with bulky Excel spreadsheets, this cumbersome process—which happens at least three times a year—is often inefficient and disjointed. In partnership with the foundation and a few Texas districts, we streamlined the LPAC process and built an LPAC Management Center that lets educators complete and track this process entirely online.

With over 270,000 LPACs completed in Ellevation, the tool has saved over 60 Texas districts thousands of hours of instructional time and turned a compliance-heavy process into an instructionally meaningful one – as it was intended to be.

Brownsville ISD is an example of this. With over 15,000 ELs, Brownsville ISD needed an online solution to help differentiate instruction, streamline meetings and deliver the educational experience their students deserve. Watch this clip to see how Ellevation is making an impact on their EL program.

“I am so amazed and grateful that Ellevation aligns test accommodations to each STAAR test. We desperately needed to present our data to TEA and with Ellevation it was so easy to pull and present everything. I still get goosebumps when I think back to our initial training where I realized what an improvement this product would make in our lives and more importantly our students’ futures.” – Alma Cardenas Rubio, Bilingual/ESL/Title III Department Administrator at Brownsville ISD, TX.

Our mission is to help English Language Learners realize their highest aspirations. Our solution is aimed at supporting teachers because we know that the success of our nation’s underserved students is closely tied to effective teaching. To that end, we are grateful to have been able to expand our impact to Texas reaching far more teachers and students.