Marker Learning scores $15M to continue bringing down the cost of learning disability assessments

Marker Learning scored $15 million in series A funding from investors like Andreessen Horowitz and Richard Branson’s Virgin Group to continue the platform’s mission of bringing learning support services to the 20% of children who study differently.

Co-founders Stefan Bauer and Emily Yudofsky were both diagnosed with dyslexia in elementary school. The company behind Marker is named Jane B. after Bauer’s mother, who spent thousands of dollars and countless hours seeking a diagnosis for her son. Today, Marker is working to decrease barriers to assessments for dyslexia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyscalculia, dysgraphia and other reading, writing and math disabilities via a new digital health platform.

Already, Marker has reached a reported 1 million students.

“What we're all about is providing the services that were absolutely life-changing for me and Emily to the millions of people who are currently shut out from them,” Bauer told Fierce Healthcare. “We are going to be maniacally focused on cost and access and really focusing on equity and that component going forward.”

While students in public K-12 schools are entitled to a learning disability assessment, school psychologists are often carrying caseloads far above the recommended limit of 500. The National Association of School Psychologists reports that current ratios are closer to one psychologist for every 1,200 students with some states reaching one psychologist for every 5,000 students.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities reports that 1 in 5 children in the U.S. have learning and attention issues. While 20% of the population reportedly faces learning challenges, 1 in 16 students has an individualized education plan and 1 in 50 receive accommodations through civil rights statute 504.

Marker connects with school districts across the country to lighten the workload of school psychologists. Students are virtually paired with a psychologist in their state to be assessed for the potential learning challenges that have been identified as potential diagnoses.

Yudofsky told Fierce Healthcare that this is where Marker can decrease price points. Individual, direct-to-consumer assessments like the one Bauer’s mother found for him can range in cost from $4,000 to $14,000. Bauer’s mother paid $8,000 a pop for a test that must be repeated periodically for students to retain accommodations like a 504 or individualized education plan.

Marker is able to bring that number down to just under $1,000 by narrowing in on a suspected diagnosis. For example, a traditional assessment may include screening for schizophrenia even if the student isn't showing potential symptoms like delusions. “And that's what's happening frequently in those $14,000 tests,” Yudofsky said.

Based on information from adults in a child’s life, Marker designs a core battery of tests. If the first battery is performed and there’s “an inkling of doubt in the psychologist's head,” a new battery is designed.

“The bulk of where we get time savings and therefore cost savings is on the report side, in developing that 20-page report, and being able to use algorithms and quality controls to make sure that we're helping psychologists be more efficient and maintain a higher quality at the same time,” Yudofsky said.

Assessments last for four to six hours with students even after Marker has truncated the time taken for things like intake. By leveraging technology, time and money shelled out by districts or families can be decreased.

However, Marker acknowledges that for many families, nearly a grand is out of the question when it comes to cost. The Learning Disability Association of America has partnered with the digital learning platform to provide free tests to students who most need them.

Learners receive a diagnostic report within a month of assessment that can then be submitted to schools or employers.

Marker only accepts around 10% of the psychologists who apply to the platform due to the rigid focus on experience, training and inclusivity the platform maintains. That way, psychologists have pattern recognition afforded by seasoned professionals who have already performed hundreds of tests through school districts.

The platform is working to offer matching that accounts for culture and race in the future. Currently, 80% of contracted providers are psychologists of color, reflecting a large number of students of color whose learning challenges are often undiagnosed, according to Marker.

“Students tend to perform well on any assessments when the assessor looks like them,” Bauer said. “So we're beginning to roll out programs to really do a better job matching the student's profile with the psychologist who is able to do the administration as well.”

Marker offers testing for people ages 6 to 50. Yudofsky says this accounts for people who passed through school before learning disability awareness was widespread or when understandings of conditions like ADHD represented primarily male presentations.

When talking about ADHD, Yudofsky said that sure, patients can skip the runaround and go straight to telepsychiatry companies that might offer stimulants without pricey, lengthy tests, but the adults that come to Marker are looking for something more; “the adults that come to us are not just looking for a diagnosis, they're looking to better understand themselves."

Marker also recently announced its expansion into disability-informed tutoring and coaching. For those living with executive functioning challenges, coaching sessions cost between $63 to $81 depending on the frequency and duration of the package.

Marker’s series A funding round also included participation from existing investors Primary Ventures, Difference Partners, Operator Partners and Night Ventures.