Four years ago, Cece Jacobs was a first-year junior high math teacher in an Arizona school district. As a young teacher, she was seeking ways to engage students in math.
That’s when she started using ALEKS, an AI-driven online learning program from McGraw Hill, an education company acquired by Platinum Equity last year.
“The beauty of the ALEKS program is how it adjusts to the student and their skill level,” Jacobs said. “So, I have some kids that will complete 40 lessons in three hours at home while some will do less than that, and it’s all based on their own learning path.”
ALEKS, which stands for Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces, offers course products for math, chemistry and statistics. The program helps educators and parents understand each student’s knowledge and learning progress in depth, and provides the individual support required for students to excel.
Founded in 1888, McGraw Hill provides education solutions like ALEKS to millions of students globally, delivering both curated content and digital learning tools and platforms to classrooms. Its products are distributed in more than 100 countries across the Americas, Asia-Pacific, Europe, India and the Middle East.
“McGraw Hill is one of the most trusted names in education and has been delivering best-in-class content for more than 130 years,” Platinum Equity Partner Jacob Kotzubei said when the acquisition was announced. “The company is well positioned to help shape and facilitate the continued shift to digital taking place across the education landscape.”
Today, McGraw Hill generates more than 60% of its revenue from digital products and services like ALEKS.
ALEKS’ platform utilizes videos, tutorials, and problems for the individuals to engage in as a part of the learning process. In 2021, Jacobs was one of four teachers across the country that received an award for using ALEKS to improve the outcomes in their students, an issue that’s top of mind as millions of students return to in-person learning in September.
The New York Times reported recently that the pandemic “erased two decades of progress in math in reading,” according to the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test administered to 9-year-olds.
“The pandemic completely hurt the public education system and there are gaps that are bigger than we’ve ever seen before,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs, who also coaches basketball and has since changed schools, uses ALEKS to differentiate instruction, support students with learning gaps, and meet her students where they are.
ALEKS chief product officer Lori Anderson said the program acts as a guide for what each student is ready and able to learn next.
“ALEKS is based on knowledge-based theory, which is a form of artificial intelligence that we built into the product to determine what students know and don’t know,” Anderson said. “You can find that in any number of our competitive products, but what sets ALEKS apart for the student is that we guide the students to what they’re ready to learn right now.”
How it works
As sixth graders gather in Jacobs’ classroom during the first weeks of classes, initial assessments are given on ALEKS to see how each individual student is progressing.
“The initial knowledge check is super fun because each student gets to see where they fall and in junior high most kids are more self-reflective in their schoolwork and know if they do well or struggle in math,” Jacobs said.
Based on billions of interactions with the platform over the years and ALEKS’s mapping of math subjects, the software can make accurate decisions about what topics students are ready to learn next.
“I can’t sit with every student and teach them every topic so that’s what ALEKS is doing; it’s assisting me and getting them up to my level while I can still teach grade level content,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs, who was one of four teachers recognized earlier this year for the usage of ALEKS, is known in her school for her creativity in keeping students engaged with ALEKS and with math.
“I give out personal pies at the end of every quarter and it keeps all the kids involved in the game,” Jacobs said. “We made it a growth competition instead of a how much you know competition.”