SoapBox Labs Introduces Fluency Assessment Technology for Kids

Image credit: Soapbox Labs

Soapbox Labs, the maker of speech recognition technology optimized for children’s vocal patterns, announced a new solution today that automates fluency testing for kids and can be integrated into educational products. The product is called SoapBox Fluency and evaluates a child while reading a passage of text. Soapbox’s technology evaluates speech accuracy by the child and automatically reports the results to the application providing fluency assessment.

The company says its unique technology makes this possible where other solutions have failed. Dr. Patricia Scanlon, CEO and founder of Soapbox Labs, commented. “Fluency is extremely challenging for educators to evaluate given the diversity and complexity of accents, dialects and reading abilities in the K-5 classroom. The voice technology used in mobile phones or other devices isn’t nearly sophisticated enough to be used with children.” The company announcement went on to elaborate:

“Expanding voice-enabled assessment beyond words and short sentences to cover the sort of longer reading passages and stories required to assess fluency has, however, proven challenging for Automated Speech Recognition (ASR) technology. By focusing specifically on children’s unique voice and speech behaviors, SoapBox Labs proprietary technology is able to handle acoustic and behavioral differences inherent in a child’s speech, when performing reading tasks.”

Parallel Fluency Testing

Since fluency evaluation has traditionally been an observational activity performed by trained educators it is relatively slow, invariably prone to subjectivity, and can only accommodate one child at a time. This means there is a lot of opportunity for efficiency gains.

Soapbox Labs told Voicebot in an interview that its new Fluency product could enable classroom teachers to assess the reading ability of many children simultaneously and receive instant results that can be shared with other educators or parents. The approach of using passive speech recognition technology also enables the test to be conducted without the child being aware that an evaluation is taking place.

The company also believes the efficiency of automating this process will enable the evaluations to be taken more frequently. The labor and specialization intensity of the evaluations today results in infrequent assessments. Automating the process could enable educators to better track the progress of children over time and intervene sooner where needed. Niamh Bushnell, chief communications officer for SoapBox Labs said,

“SoapBox Fluency voice-enables these assessments to remove the need for observational assessments which are manual and time-intensive for teachers.”

An API-Like Service for Fluency Testing

SoapBox Fluency is not an application or end product ready for consumer use. Bushnell commented, “It works just like it would if a customer was integrating speech recognition – only in addition to the audio, they send us the fluency passage, and instead of returning just the file transcription, we return information such as words correct per minute, and information on insertions, deletions, and substitutions.”

This means parents and teachers will not be signing up with SoapBox Labs for access to the speech fluency evaluation but instead will be using another company’s application which is applying SoapBox technology for backend speech processing and analysis. The Fluency product is like having an API-accessible service that application developers can plug into their existing educational software packages. It also means application providers could offer these capabilities to educators or directly to parents. At-home access by parents could enable them to have more insight into how they can assist their child in reading fluency without the delay of hearing that from a teacher at a later date.

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