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This startup wants to transform the way we think of report cards

This business is aiming to stop surprises from bad report cards by keeping communication open.

FreshGrade isn’t just taking report cards online, it’s changing the way parents, students and teachers interact.

The Kelowna, B.C.-based education tech startup, which raised $11.6 million in its Series A funding round in mid-May, offers a web and mobile tool that allows teachers to assign, grade and share students’ work via digital portfolios.

“We’ve all heard stories of parents coming into schools upset saying ‘why didn’t you tell me my child was struggling?’ ” explains Lane Merrifield.  “But the reality is, (historically) teachers collected data for three or four months and then they’d spend two weeks of hell processing that data and putting it into some form of report card – a teacher with 35 or 40 students in the class, might not have even realized that the student was struggling.”

But now that’s changing, thanks to FreshGrade.

The initial idea came while Merrifield, who built and sold an online game called Club Penguin to Disney for $350 million, was driving home from meet the teacher night at school.

Merrifield, whose mother and sister were both educators, turned to his wife and asked why a process like report cards, which could easily be put online, had remain unchanged for so long while all this other tech disruption was happening around us.

They realized all the anguish – of students falling behind, of parents frustrated with feeling so out of the loop, of educators losing track of students – could be avoided with a little real-time access to data.

Merrifield insists he’s not inventing the idea of tracking real-time data, FreshGrade just collects the best tools and gives teachers access to them in a meaningful way – letting them not only track and post grades and progress online but include photos and video should they feel so inclined.

“Some teachers, they’re not quite ready to use video and audio, they don’t feel comfortable with that yet so they’re just using the grade book,” he says.

Since launching in 2012, the business has played the long game, steadily signing up school districts in more than 70 countries. But this past school year has been a windfall.  

“The district adoption has been phenomenal… we had 12 or 13 districts at the beginning of the latest school year,” he says. “We’re getting close to signing on our hundredth district which represents millions and millions of students from across North America.”

He admits that while the public sector doesn’t offer much opportunity for the same sort of explosion in adoption the consumer market affords, it’s less fickle.

“We’ve had a hundred percent retention throughout… even the districts that were a little unsure at first,” says Merrifield. “In something like this, as soon as a parent has access – for the first time in modern history, real time access to what’s going on in a classroom, they feel like they’ve got a more meaningful connection to the teacher.”