Being a student in America means taking numerous standardized tests. And while these assessments help districts see how schools are performing, the data often isn’t used to improve the individualized learning of each pupil. A team of software and educational testing experts came together to form Naiku, a Minneapolis-based company that develops software for teachers to assess their students and then tailor instruction to each individual.
The ultimate goal is to help teachers engage students more deeply in their learning in hopes of improving their academic performance, says Naiku President Adisack Nhouyvanisvong, an educational testing expert. He partnered with CEO Corey Thompson, former director of software methods at Plato Learning, and COO Kevin Sampers, a long-time school board member and former research director for the Association of Metropolitan School Districts.
Together, they launched Naiku (which means teacher in Laotian) in November 2010, leaving their full-time positions and bootstrapping the company to develop the software-as-a-service offering. During its creation, they looked for ways to make students more active learners while changing the teacher-student dynamic. “We want to help the world like teachers do. We see ourselves as teachers, and there is no bigger job than that,” Nhouyvanisvong says. “We want to change the world through educational technology.”
Testing is a huge industry, encompassing $4 billion in 2010 spending; classroom testing accounted for $1 billion, giving Naiku ample room in which to operate.
Naiku’s tests are designed to be interactive, and they allow students to use iPads, smartphones, laptops, or other Internet-enabled devices. Educators create quizzes or tests that reflect the material they are teaching, get students’ result in real-time, and then assess which information students do and don’t understand. Pupils can rate how well they believe they know certain information or go back and learn why they got an answer wrong.
“It’s an assessment for learning, not just an assessment of learning,” says Nhouyvanisvong. So far, 35,000 students in eight school districts in Minnesota and Iowa are using the software—and Naiku’s fee is $5 per student per year. The goal is to reach 100,000 students by year’s end.