Newsela rolls out Library to help students read beyond the news

When Newsela was created in 2012, the edtech startup aimed to help students master reading at their own pace, specifically with news articles adapted to different reading levels.

The company’s app has racked up 800,000 teachers, and 7.7 million students as users and counting, according to Newsela CEO and co-founder Matthew Gross.

But when it comes to teaching English Language Arts, the CEO said, teachers wanted more than just news articles to turn their students into great readers and critical thinkers.

Heading into the new school year, Newsela is offering a major new feature it calls the Library, which contains a slew of primary source material, historical and biographical content adapted to different reading levels in both English and Spanish.

Reading material in the Newsela Library is the kind that’s referenced frequently in media and pop culture, for example, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, or the majority opinion from Brown V. the Board of Education.

But such documents would be challenging, if not impossible, for most students to comprehend if they were to look up originals on the open Web or in print.

Here’s an example the company shared adapting the Constitution of the U.S. from the original to a 3rd grade reading level:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

We the People of the United States want to form a more perfect country. We will set up justice, promise peace, protect the people, keep them healthy, and have liberty for ourselves and our children. Now we create this Constitution for the United States of America in order to do those things.

In addition to the Library, Newsela has made improvements to its “Pro” homepage and service for teachers in districts or schools that subscribe to the premium version of the app.

The tools help teachers keep track of how their students are progressing as they work through different reading materials and assessments, and quickly see where they’re facing challenges, either individually and as a class.

Gross said, “We are aiming to improve reading comprehension, knowledge acquisition and reading motivation among students of different abilities.”

English Language Learners, previously referred to as ESL or English-as-a-second-language students, and students from high-poverty backgrounds are an important demographic for Newsla, Gross said.

The company operates as a for-profit but mission-based venture. Its financial backers include a mix of tech, and education specialized investors including KPCB and Owl Ventures, for example.

Newsela has raised $22.16 million in venture funding to-date.