When Nancy and Eric Weinstein’s daughter Abby was in third grade, the Weinsteins became concerned about how she was learning and started wondering if she could be doing anything different. The Weinsteins, Titusville residents, consulted with Abby’s teacher at Princeton Day School, Bev Gallagher, who explained that she thought Abby was simply an unusual learner. Gallagher suggested that Weinsteins might benefit from having Abby evaluated by a child psychologist, even though she did not have a learning disability.
The conversation with Gallagher happened in the fall of 2011, but the Weinsteins couldn’t get an appointment with the recommended child psychologist until March, 2012. By that point, they had lost most of the school year waiting for answers about how Abby learned. When they finally got the results from the psychologist, the child described in the report didn’t match the one that Gallagher saw in the classroom. After an expensive and time-consuming process, the Weinsteins were left with more questions than answers.
This January the Weinsteins launched Mindprint Learning, a startup that aims to help parents gain a better understanding of how their children learn with an assessment that is both economical and convenient.
Through their experience with Abby, the Weinsteins realized that unless a child has special needs, as defined by the public school system, parents who want to know about how their children learn have had limited options. “The only choice is doing nothing or several thousand dollars for an evaluation,” said Nancy.
The potential market is big. “Anyone who gets special services from a school has a cognitive assessment,” says Nancy Weinstein. But that is only about one of every seven school children. “Any teacher would say they would want every child to have one,” says Weinstein. “Our goal is to make it practical.”
Continues Weinstein: “For children who don’t qualify for special needs services we are the best (and for those who can’t afford the time or expense) only option. And given that everyone struggles at times we believe we are an ideal solution. Reliable, objective insight in a confidential and efficient way. These kids are sometimes referred to as ‘the chunky middle,’ the vast majority who neither qualify for special needs nor are supremely gifted. I’d add that even gifted kids can have weaknesses and it’s quite helpful to know what they are.”
Weinstein says that some parents of special needs children use Mindprint as a “second opinion.” It’s also useful as an interim assessment between the three-year re-assessments mandated by the government. “Kids change a lot and many would argue that three years between evaluations for these kids is too long,” says Weinstein. She says it is also useful for kids who no longer qualify but whose parents want to know a year or two later if things really are better.
In contrast to getting on a months-long waiting list to meet with a child psychologist, the assessment offered by Mindprint Learning can be taken on any computer and lasts for one hour. Although an Internet connection is needed to download the assessment, it isn’t required for the test itself, so the speed doesn’t matter. An adult proctor is required to make sure the child sits at the computer for the duration of the assessment, but the instructions are delivered by voiceover and the child isn’t even required to read.
Mindprint works by offering yearly subscriptions — in the range of $200. The subscriptions include the assessment, a learning profile that sums up the results of the assessment, and unlimited access to the toolbox of recommendations.
After a child takes the assessment, Mindprint Learning gives parents a report on how the child performed in 10 core skills in four domains. The first domain, speed, includes motor speed and processing speed. The second domain, executive functions, includes attention, flexible thinking, and working memory. The third domain, complex reasoning, includes visual reasoning, abstract reasoning, and spatial perceptions. The fourth domain, long-term memory, includes verbal memory and visual memory.
The report explains the skills in layman’s terms and how they play out in the classroom and in life.
Mindprint also offers a toolbox of solutions such as learning strategies, workbooks, games, websites, and apps to address weaker skills or strengthen a child’s strengths. The toolbox allows parents to navigate the plethora of products that exist and find ones that have both been reviewed by educators and match their child’s individual strengths and weaknesses. It also gives parents a variety of options, because what works for one child won’t necessarily work for another child.
The assessment offered by Mindprint Learning was developed by a research team at the University of Pennsylvania. The Weinsteins have an exclusive license to use the assessment in the educational market.
“There’s a neuro-myth that we all have a learning style,” says Nancy Weinstein, “for example auditory learning or kinesthetic learning. But research shows no correlations between how someone thinks they learn and how they learn best. There’s a very high correlation between an objective understanding of where your strengths are and how you learn best.” For example: someone with good reasoning skills but a weaker working memory might need to use a study guide when completing complex work.
She explains that in the current systems, teachers are asked to use observation to spot learning issues their students may have. “In a classroom with 25 kids, you can’t expect the best teacher to figure it out. An objective tool saves a lot of time,” she says. She adds that many of the skills being measured cannot be observed.
Sarah Vander Schaaff, Mindprint Learning’s editor, says that the assessment helped pinpoint the cause of her daughter’s struggles with math. “We thought she couldn’t memorize. Through the assessment we learned the issue was processing speed,” she says.
Now that the proper issue is being addressed, her daughter is doing fine with math.
The Weinsteins say that the research behind the assessment prove that its value. “The assessment was normed and validated across 10,000 children ages 8 to 21 through the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Research has been published in prominent, peer-reviewed scientific journals. It’s been as rigorously tested, if not more, than what is currently used in schools and elsewhere,” says Eric Weinstein.
He is the company CFO and predicts that Mindprint Learning will become profitable within the next two years. However, in order to achieve that goal, the Weinsteins need to educate the market on the service they provide and why it matters, which can be a challenge.
Nancy explains that one obstacle is that parents confuse the cognitive assessment with school achievement tests like the PARCC. “Right now there’s a lot of discussion about testing,” she says. “The idea of another test sounds foreboding to parents. But this is completely different, It’s about giving insight, not about a score.”
In addition to talking to parents directly, the Weinsteins are in communication with schools and foundations. Nancy said that when children struggle parents tend to search for information online and the information that they trust the most comes from non-profits in the issues they are researching. Therefore, building relationships with non-profits that do work related to learning is crucial to getting Mindprint’s message out. One foundation that the Weinsteins have reached out to so far is the Edge Foundation, which does ADHD coaching.
Mindprint Learning is headquartered at Tigerlabs in Princeton, but the Weinsteins live in Titusville. In addition to Abby, who is now 11, they have another daughter, Maddie, who is 9.
Nancy’s father is a physician and her mother was a stay at home mom. Eric’s father was a dentist and his mother was a dental hygienist. The Weinsteins met while attending Jonathan Dayton High School in Springfield, New Jersey. They started dating when they were both undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania. At Penn, both Weinsteins studied at the Wharton School. Eric studied finance and Nancy was in Wharton’s management and technology program where she studied bioengineering and finance. She later attended Harvard Business School.
Before coming up with the idea for Mindprint Learning, Nancy worked at several companies including Goldman Sachs, Disney, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and a few Internet startups.
After college Eric spent several years working on Wall Street. For the past decade he has been investing in both public and private companies, increasingly spending more and more of his time at Mindprint.
Nancy said that she hopes that parents begin to see yearly subscription to Mindprint as the equivalent of yearly checkups at the pediatrician. “You go to the pediatrician every year and make sure the child is on the right growth chart for height and weight. Here you make sure your child is on the right chart for cognitive growth — that strong skills are staying strong and weak skills are getting better,” she says.
Mindprint Learning, c/o Tiger Labs, 252 Nassau Street, Princeton 08542. www.mindprintlearning.com