Education industry giant Scholastic has signed a long-term partnership deal with child-centered voice AI start-up SoapBox Labs. The agreement will see SoapBox’s technology integrated into Scholastic reading products, beginning with the multimedia phonics system Ready4Reading. The SoapBox AI will listen to students practicing reading and provide detailed assessment and feedback to help teachers identify areas where students need help and adjust their lessons accordingly. SoapBox CEO Martyn Farrows said the key feature of the technology is its ability to provide high accuracy at a phoneme level for children when they are reading. The company has trained its models on thousands of hours of children’s speech, enabling it to understand what children say better than standard adult versions.
SoapBox’s AI has responded to over 100 million requests in roughly two and a half years, accumulating data that can be used to refine its models. The start-up has partnered with several educational platforms, including Imagine Learning, which brought its AI to students using the Fluent Reader+ reading assessment, and MetaMetrics, which has embedded SoapBox tech in its Lexile Framework of oral reading tests. Educational institutions like McGraw Hill and Amplify are among SoapBox’s clients, and it served as the impetus for a literacy test designed for Florida State University’s Florida Center for Reading Research.
SoapBox earned certification from education non-profit Digital Promise for Prioritizing Racial Equity in AI Design by demonstrating the breadth of dialects and accents among children its tech can understand. This certification serves as a shorthand way for SoapBox to prove to potential clients that it has accounted for racial equity in its technology and that it takes the issue seriously.
Scholastic and SoapBox have been working on Ready4Reading for a while, but the breadth of dialects and accents SoapBox’s tech can understand helped smooth the path to a multi-year deal with Scholastic. Farrows said the partnership is a “happy marriage” of Scholastic’s pedagogical approach and SoapBox’s ability to uniquely support that in the market. SoapBox will play a role in Scholastic’s long-term planning through the development of a literacy educational platform. Scholastic envisions a combination of in-class and at-home learning and assessment to boost student literacy.
Farrows said one of the most important factors in student literacy is the idea of helpful feedback, which not every child has access to at home. “Our intention is to put [SoapBox] into multiple products in Scholastic’s portfolio,” he added. The partnership with Scholastic is a significant milestone for SoapBox, which has steadily expanded its reach through partnerships with educational platforms. The start-up hopes to continue refining its models and accumulating data to play a key role in Scholastic’s efforts to boost student literacy.
What is Scholastic?
Scholastic Corporation (NASDAQ: SCHL) has been promoting children’s personal and intellectual growth for over a century, starting with literacy. Known for its reliable support for educators and families, Scholastic is the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books. It also provides literacy curriculum, professional services, and classroom magazines, and produces educational and entertaining media for children. Scholastic offers best-selling books and e-books, print and technology-based learning programs for children from pre-K to grade 12, and other products and services that promote children’s learning and literacy both in school and at home. The company has 15 international operations and exports to 165 countries. Scholastic makes quality, affordable books accessible to children worldwide through school-based book clubs and book fairs, classroom libraries, school and public libraries, retail outlets, and online.
What is SoapBox Labs?
SoapBox Labs has been developing speech recognition technology specifically designed to accommodate the unique speech patterns and idiosyncrasies of children since 2013. Their award-winning voice engine powers digital screening, practice, intervention, and assessment tools for various subjects, including literacy, math, and language learning, in the preK-12 education space. As of the end of 2022, SoapBox Labs had facilitated over 70 million learning moments (individual pieces of student feedback) through their education publisher partners worldwide.
The proprietary SoapBox voice engine has been built from the ground up to deliver unbiased and immersive digital experiences for children aged 2 to 12, regardless of their accent, dialect, or stage of development. The company places a high priority on privacy and equity, ensuring that their technology is designed to prioritize racial equity in AI. In October 2022, SoapBox Labs became the first AI company to be certified for Prioritizing Racial Equity in AI Design by Digital Promise.