Peter Murphy was on the sidelines of a soccer game watching his boys play. Parents had been complaining about standardized testing and waiting for scores. He began to think about the problem of delivering writing assessments to kids and then returning results weeks or months later after they had already been promoted and the connection of the assessment to learning opportunities was lost. With that idea in mind, he set out to apply engineering principles to education and built IntelliMetric®, the first commercially-successful tool able to administer and score open-ended questions and provide immediate, detailed, prescriptive feedback by leveraging Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing. Following the successful launch of IntelliMetric, the scoring engine became the basis for developing the Vantage Learning Platform and MY Access!®, an instructional writing and assessment program used by millions of students worldwide. Peter Murphy founded Vantage Technologies including Vantage Learning and from there, they’ve continued to develop their technology to create innovative, cost-efficient ways to address multiple challenges in education. In this interview, John P. Fallon, VP, Global Marketing at Vantage Technologies (pictured above), discusses how Vantage Learning was originally created to address the need to improve K-12 writing assessment, and where they are today.
Victor: What does the name mean?
John: It comes from the definition of vantage: a position giving a strategic advantage, commanding perspective, or comprehensive view. We always provide best-in-class solutions on the cutting edge of technological advances in testing and infrastructure. The goal of the company is to always provide educators with a comprehensive view of performance so action can be taken.
Victor: What is it? Who created it?
John: Vantage Learning is a private company founded by Peter Murphy to improve teaching and learning for all students. With headquarters in New Hope, Penn., Vantage delivers more than 25 million assessments annually to 16 million students directly and through partners.
Victor: What does it do?
John: Since the inception of IntelliMetric, and subsequently MY Access!®, Vantage has leveraged its core, underlying AI and NL technologies to move from a focus on writing assessment to addressing the continuing challenges across the education spectrum. This includes cross-curricular assessment through the Student Progress Monitoring System® (SPMS®); enhanced data analysis through iSEEK Supercruncher™; diagnostic testing and placement through College Success™; and the delivery of dynamic, individualized instruction to every student through all of our learning platforms.
Victor: What are the benefits?
John: The benefits depend on who is using which tools. First and foremost, the students benefit from individualized remediation from Vantage Learning solutions. Tools such as MY Access! and the Student Progress Monitoring System provide students with the ability to work at their own pace to improve their skills in writing, reading, social studies, math and science. Across the board, students are performing better thanks to the cross-curricular student skill assessments provided by Vantage Learning. They benefit from the one-to-one instruction and individual attention they can receive as the tools give their teachers more the time and resources to provide it.
With these tools, teachers and principals benefit by having the ability to deliver continuous, authentic assessments to students. By receiving immediate, prescriptive feedback, teachers are able to access and deliver resources and differentiated instruction to ensure the connection between the assessment and learning is not lost. Teachers can individualize instruction and provide feedback to a student who needs it. Both principals and teachers can have access to measurable, authentic classroom assessments and standards-aligned benchmarks to help identify problem areas and implement strategies for improvement.
State and district personnel benefit by having transparent systems that allow them to gather assessment information in real time through MY Access! and SPMS, combine it with any other disparate data sets they find relevant, and, through Supercruncher, identify and share infinite opportunities for intervention – whether the intervention is needed at the district, school, principal, teacher or individual student level.
Victor: How is Vantage unique from other similar products/services?
John: Vantage is a bit different in that we are not publishers, nor content creators. Our main focus is on developing new technology and finding new and unique ways to apply it to enhance teaching and learning. Essentially we are content agnostic. We focus on the process of diagnostic assessments and using results to deliver targeted resources. Keeping this focus ensures our solutions remain flexible and customizable so teachers and administrators maintain a comprehensive view of progress and can act on opportunities for improvement. Additionally, by applying our core technologies to a variety of solutions, we can offer a wide range of solutions while saving schools a lot of money.
Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?
John: There are multiple options available from our entire Accountability Solution which includes SPMS, MY Access!, iSEEK Supercruncher, and integrated professional development, to any pairing of components or individual components. We generally work with schools and districts to help them identify their needs and develop solutions based on how those needs can best be addressed.
The Accountability Solution is approximately $30K per building, and pricing varies for any single component implementations based on the number of students and level of customization. We find the majority of schools that implement Supercruncher to unify all of their data sets, whether as part of the solution or on its own, end up spending less than they did on maintenance costs for their existing programs. Supercruncher eliminates software maintenance costs and frees up IT staff time to focus on other projects rather than collecting data to run reports.
We also work regularly with a number of schools and districts to help them apply for and receive substantial funding. William S. Hart Union High School District in California recently received $1M in federal stimulus funds to help improve educational technology and college-career readiness, with a large portion of that going toward implementing our solutions.
Finally, we do make Vantage Learning Foundation Grant Awards available to schools that qualify for our Keystone Partner Program. One of our more recent Keystone Partners, Greene County North Carolina, improved their writing test scores from 29% to 61% proficient in their first year.
Victor: What are some examples of it in action?
John: Toward the end of last year, we worked with the Florida College System to successfully launch the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test (PERT). Based on our customized College Success platform, we created the nation’s first and only state assessment to incorporate Common Core Standards. PERT is available to high school and entering postsecondary students and is used to assess a student’s readiness for college-level work and identify appropriate course placement. We are also finalizing the implementation of a similar system with the state of Virginia.
Our flagship product, MY Access! is used all over the country and has been met with tremendous success. Two cases with notable results include customers like Alhambra, CA USD which improved from 22% to 70% proficiency on CA STAR Test after one year of using MY Access!®. Also, OASIS Alternative Preparatory School in Florida achieved 100% proficiency on FCAT Writes Test after implementing MY Access!.
More and more schools and districts are coming on board every day, using any combination of our tools. This includes North Plainfield, NJ where they are in the process of implementing our Full Accountability Solution including SPMS, MY Access!, Supercruncher and customizing our Professional Development offerings to get up and running quickly.
Additionally, IntelliMetric is used to score the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) portion of the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT®).
With more than 37 linguistic patents, literally millions of people worldwide touch our technology which is embedded in places such as the Apple iPhone, Intuit software (Quicken, Quickbooks and TurboTax), Microsoft Word and Nokia cell phones- to name just a few.
Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?
John: While our solutions address the needs of everyone from state level administrators down to individual classroom teachers and students, our focus has always been on schools that are looking to make substantial changes, commit to measuring their progress and share results with all of their stakeholders to ensure action is taken where needed. We enjoy working with forward-thinking educators and administrators who believe that embracing technology for the benefit of children is the most innovative way to drive progress. Our solutions are not necessarily for those content with the current status of keeping a separate emphasis on testing and learning, or those who believe that status quo in education policy and thinking is the optimal course for the future. We feel strongly that the best way to differentiate instruction and create positive results is to deliver targeted resources to each student during the assessment process. As Vantage was founded on the principle that assessment and learning need a tighter connection, we prefer to focus our efforts in that direction.
Also, we’ve seen great results from a number of different student populations. We recently conducted some research on the effectiveness of MY Access! on various sub-groups and found that, on average, student writing scores improved in all traits of writing by 17% in as few as three submissions, regardless of gender, language proficiency or grade level. That’s a 1-point improvement on a 6-point scale.
Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?
John: The education market is going through some serious changes. With a greater focus on accountability rather than just test scores, and deep budget cuts, schools are struggling to find solutions to address these challenges. While there are a number of tools available to educators, it takes time to demonstrate whether or not these tools really work, and schools need to get creative on how they spend their funding. As educators begin to separate the wheat from the chaff, and identify the tools that make a difference at the student level, we’ll begin to see substantial improvements in education starting with the schools that are trying new approaches. I think schools are starting to recognize that they have to look outside of their regular vendors and large publishers to seek help from companies that specialize in specific areas to ensure they are addressing the problems they face with solutions best suited to meet them.
Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your decision to join Vantage Learning?
John: My wife is a teacher, and both of our families claim a long line of educators, so the value of a good education – and the challenge of getting one – has often been the topic of conversation around the dinner table and at holidays. Hearing first-hand about the challenges teachers face daily in the classroom, and the perceived lack of resources available to them, has always been troubling to hear. I joined Vantage several years ago because the passion the leadership has for making a difference – a real difference – in the way children learn was evident immediately. While Vantage has won several awards and been recognized as one of the top technology providers in education, the focus has always remained on building the best tools because they’re needed, rather than for recognition.
Victor: How does Vantage Learning address some of your concerns about education?
John: Vantage puts all of its focus on applying technology meaningfully and in a pedagogically sound way into curriculum to impact student learning, and does so in a way that makes financial sense for schools. Again, the passion for making a difference in a way that’s accessible to schools is what drew me to the company. As we develop new products and new features for existing products, every meeting or discussion starts with exploring how what we’re doing helps change learning at the classroom level. All team members are encouraged to give their input and gather information from our customers to ensure we always remain true to our goals. It’s this commitment to improving outcomes that I find gives me the confidence that I’m part of a team that has its priorities straight.
Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?
John: Education has been and will continue to be an environment that evolves. With budgetary challenges and a greater focus on the need for real transparency, I believe we’re in store for some fairly radical changes in the near future. The challenge moving forward for all educators and companies in this space is to focus on the entire education process at the student level. Advances in technology are making it possible to provide truly individualized instruction opportunities to all students based on their skill levels, interests and preferred methods of learning. A one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t work, so we need to continue moving in the direction of customizing teaching to meet the needs of each individual learner. With the tools now available, and others being developed, teachers are becoming better equipped to efficiently work with students on a one-to-one basis. Combine the technology with dynamic professional development, coaching and mentoring, you’ve got the recipe to make sure all students are ready to advance to college or into the workforce.
Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of Vantage Learning?
John: Since 1990, Vantage Learning has provided educators with sophisticated knowledge and immediate feedback solutions to enhance student learning. By combining decades of advanced artificial intelligence, natural language research, educational understanding and user-centric application development, Vantage Learning provides customers with high-quality tools and resources that foster meaningful interactions between students, parents and teachers.
What that all means is that Vantage is making a real difference in education– starting at the student level. By keeping our focus on the technology and delivery, we really are well-positioned to work with educators to integrate with their content, and develop solutions that meet the unique needs of their student populations and their administrative challenges.
Ed. Note: For a more recent interview featuring John and Vantage Learning, click here.
Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: [email protected]