Fluency with phoneme-level accuracy

December 2, 2021

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DUBLIN (Dec 2nd, 2021) — SoapBox Labs, the speech recognition company that powers joyful learning and play experiences for kids, has launched a new feature that gives educators unprecedented insight into their students’ oral reading fluency. 

“For the first time in a decade, elementary reading scores in the U.S. have hit a plateau and educators across the world are being overwhelmed by a deepening literacy crisis due to unprecedented COVID lockdowns and quarantines. The research is well-documented: for a child to achieve reading fluency, we must get early literacy right,” said Amelia Kelly, Ph.D., Vice President of Speech Technology at SoapBox Labs.

“Advancements in speech recognition technology are giving educators insights that are nearly impossible to surface in today’s classroom or remote learning environment. By understanding where students are struggling with reading, down to the phoneme level, educators can intervene faster and with much more accuracy. This is a really exciting application of technology, in service of the teacher.” 

In a traditional oral reading fluency (ORF) assessment, educators must quickly and accurately assess each child in their classroom. Best practice guides educators to capture total words read, total errors, and total words correct but data in relation to mispronunciations, substitutions, or skipped words can sometimes be missed or difficult for teachers to capture and act upon. The time constraints of a classroom full of children often leaves educators without the comprehensive set of tangible insights they need to support students on an individual basis through their reading journey.

In response to the ever widening literacy gap among students, the team of speech technologists and literacy researchers at SoapBox Labs developed a solution called SoapBox Fluency, which generates assessment data, not only about the number of errors in ORF, but the types and frequencies of those errors.

SoapBox Fluency now also provides a phoneme-level breakdown of the words a child substitutes during oral reading, which reveals for example, when they made a substitution, the word they used to make the substitution, and with what accuracy. By breaking down pronunciation by units of speech — what linguists call phonemes or letter sounds — educators gain even more precise and timely insights into how a child is progressing on the literacy journey. 

For example, if the child was asked to read “The bar is low,” but instead reads, “The ball is low,” SoapBox Fluency will immediately populate the teacher dashboard with high scores, while also showing that the child confidently — but wrongly — substituted an “ll” for an “r”. The teacher dashboard will also show the phoneme scores for all insertions or repetitions the child makes while reading.  

phonemes press release
SoapBox Fluency phoneme breakdown of a transcribed word “other”

SoapBox Fluency makes it easy for teachers to identify the source of ORF errors and interpret them. For example, a child who skips words or phrases, but pronounces words correctly, may have a visual processing problem rather than a reading problem. Similarly, if a child regularly substitutes an “ll” for an “r,” they may have an articulation disorder. The types and frequencies of errors hold a wealth of insight that promotes more individualized instruction.

“Innovating literacy instruction and assessment is no longer just an exciting prospect, it’s an urgent imperative if we are to prioritize inclusivity and support all young students who have lost momentum over the last twenty months” said Marytn Farrows, Ph.D., CEO of SoapBox Labs. “It’s encouraging to see education companies embracing these advancements in speech recognition, and accelerating their plans to voice-enable literacy tools for the home and classroom. With SoapBox Fluency, teachers now have the tools they need to tackle this crisis on a student by student basis”. 

The new phoneme breakdown level of accuracy now available through SoapBox Fluency builds on the original capabilities of the solution, the first of its kind to support educators in delivering literacy instruction and assessment remotely during the pandemic. With Fluency, teachers have immediate access to granular data about their students’ reading assessments through a data dashboard, as well as time-stamped recordings of students’ reading practice and assessment to listen back to. 

“This new ability to understand students’ fluency down to the phoneme-level will be a game changer for literacy instruction,” said Krista Curran, SVP & GM, Assessment and Intervention at Amplify. “After months of careful testing with educators and researchers, we deployed SoapBox’s cutting-edge Fluency solution as part of our mCLASS suite for back to school 2020. SoapBox’s singular focus on speech tech for kids presents a unique opportunity to make good on the promise of innovation as we all work together to drive stronger outcomes for students.”

All of these insights allow educators to craft pinpointed, effective lessons to improve individual students’ ORF. The new technology is currently being incorporated into SoapBox Labs’ solutions for education companies and will be available to lighthouse customers in December 2021, full release Q1 2022. 

To learn more about our fluency feature and how it empowers teachers to support students on their literacy journey, download our new Fluency white paper.

About SoapBox Labs

SoapBox Labs makes kids’ unique voices heard in the digital world. Our speech technology is proprietary and built from the ground up to empower 2 to 12 year old kids of every accent and stage of development to have joyful digital experiences. 

SoapBox voice-enables learning and play experiences for education, games and entertainment companies. We are a privacy-first company and will never reuse or sell our clients’ voice data for marketing or advertising purposes. 

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