The final days are drawing near for TenMarks.
Come June 30, operations at the Amazon-owned online education program will cease entirely.
School and district users had ample warning about the demise of the adaptive K-12 math and writing software—the company issued a notice on its site 15 months ago—and yet many say that the off-boarding process was not a smooth one.
Any time a program is changed or phased out, it can be disruptive to classroom activities, administrators tell EdSurge. But TenMarks, at least, offered the courtesy of a heads up long before its official end point.
That also meant that TenMarks’ competitors have seen an opportunity and seized it. Programs like Ascend Math and Mathletics have entire web pages devoted to marketing their tools to outgoing TenMarks customers.
“Have you found a TenMarks replacement?” the Mathletics website asks. “We’ve got you covered.” Its parent company, 3P Learning, promises to price-match on districts’ most recent TenMarks contract. Ascend takes a different tack, offering a free 30-day trial to schools coming off the TenMarks program.
These tactics may well be working. Freckle, a math education provider that was recently acquired by Renaissance Learning, published a blog post in April 2018, just days after TenMarks announced it would be shutting down, positioning itself as a strong alternative for districts. More than a year later, the company has observed a notable uptick in new users for the 2019-20 school year, a sales executive at Freckle confirms. She estimates that the company has seen an 11-13 percent increase in overall sales due to the TenMarks bump.
Officials at Amazon, which purchased the rights to TenMarks in 2013, declined to comment for this story. They did, however, provide this statement: “In April 2018, after a thorough review, we made the difficult decision to wind down the TenMarks service. Since then, we have honored all contracts and provided support for TenMarks Math and Writing, which will continue through June 30, 2019.” It’s an adaption of the statement posted on the TenMarks website last spring, which says “We’re winding down” in a notice displayed at the top of every page.
That’s how school district users last year found out about the end of TenMarks, which has provided curriculum, lesson plans, exercises and assessments in math and writing to students in an estimated 11,500 U.S. districts.
Brian Curley, the principal of Winthrop Middle School in Winthrop, Mass., says he saw the message on the website last April and alerted his staff. But he never heard directly from anyone at Amazon about the news.
“The only communication was that I reached out and asked if there was a possibility someone had purchased the product,” Curley tells EdSurge.
Throughout the 2018-19 school year, he held out hope the software would be acquired. As did Anna Nolin, the superintendent of Massachusetts’ Natick Public Schools.
“We were of the mind somebody would buy it up and that it would be saved,” Nolin says. “We’re surprised” that has not happened.
Other than the notices that TenMarks was coming to an end, the district officials EdSurge interviewed say they have had extremely limited contact with Amazon officials in the 2018-19 school year. Some reached out to the company to ask what had prompted the shutdown, especially because TenMarks is so popular in their schools. But they say they never received answers.
In fact, the lack of communication became an issue for administrators at Yakima School District in Washington state. Across the district’s elementary and middle schools, Yakima had about 8,400 students on the program for the last three years. When district officials reached out about renewing the license for the 2018-19 school year, Amazon didn’t get back to them, and they had to make some tough decisions, says Kirsten Fitterer, a spokesperson for Yakima.
Fitterer says TenMarks appeared short-staffed in its final year and was therefore unable to provide the level of customer service the district had come to expect.
“It was frustrating,” she says, “and we decided since they would go out of business anyway we should just move on.”
In replacing TenMarks for its second- through eighth-graders, Yakima has identified three alternative online math curriculum providers: Freckle, Zearn and the nonprofit Khan Academy.
Missing the Marks
But even taken together, those programs aren’t quite serving the district the way teachers in the math department felt TenMarks did. “We’re missing it,” Fitterer says. “Or, we’re missing it with full customer service, I should say.”
Winthrop Middle School has been using TenMarks for about five years and agreed to continue on with it for one more, explains Curley, the principal. It was used school-wide by about 500 students in grades six through eight and “got nothing but positive reviews” from teachers and students, he says. “Once we got word it would be going away June 30, we were disappointed.”
In the second half of the 2018-19 school year, Winthrop began trying out different online math programs, including IXL Learning, DreamBox and Mathletics. (Some teachers already use Freckle and Khan Academy on their own.) Curley says they decided on a combination of IXL and DreamBox and have been ramping up with those products in recent months. “They’re definitely not ideal replacements in terms of what we were looking for,” he says. “But we were spoiled because we really loved TenMarks.”
Natick Public Schools has been using TenMarks since it launched in 2009, Nolin says. Today, it’s used regularly by about 2,500 students from first through eighth grade.
While Natick has continued using the program with its students this year, the experience hasn’t been the same, Nolin says. In previous years, the school had frequent contact with account managers at the company and received annual training before each new school year.
This year, that all disappeared. “We have had no service,” Nolin says. “Nobody has followed up to speak with us.” The district has its own trainers to brief new teachers on the curriculum, but it hasn’t had anyone analyzing the district’s data or explaining how to use certain features and services like before. “We sensed they cut back on staff,” Nolin says.
The district primarily used TenMarks to allow more advanced students to go deeper into a particular concept. Natick schools also used it with students during the summer to avoid any loss of skills and keep them sharp.
A district-wide innovation team at Natick has been researching and piloting alternative math programs this year. One of those programs is Freckle, which was a strong contender. The team has not yet officially identified which program they will sign on with for the coming school year, though, Nolin says.
“Teachers are concerned—particularly third and fourth grade teachers who used it most heavily,” she says. “They are chomping at the bit, [asking] ‘What’s the replacement going to be?’ We’re having a hard time finding a product that does all we had TenMarks doing.”