Review: Lumos StepUp

A month into 2014, parents might be wondering how their kids might make “better” use of the smartphones and tablets bestowed upon them over the holidays.

Maybe the kids would like to do a little learning on their tablets, the kind of learning that supplements the stuff they learn in school.

Lumos Learning (“Developed By Expert Teachers”) released Lumos StepUp (Android, iOS) to help American kids do exactly that. The free app covers myriad topics in math and English “language arts.” It boasts “instant access” to common core state standards, a variety of practice tests, and more. The screenshots and video on the Lumos website make the app and companion Lumos products look promising.

That’s about all the good I can say about it, though.

At first, I couldn’t get past its demand that I register. Each time I tried, it returned an obscure error message. This isn’t a huge deal, given how the app is free, but this is the first time an app just wouldn’t work at all on my 2013-vintage iPod Touch.

I ran into a few other issues:

  • Registration is necessary even though the app implies, with its “TryFree” link, that I can sample the tests without going through the registration process (otherwise, I would have tried the app right away).
  • Some of the test section descriptions are needlessly wordy. They could be more clearly written using a series of scrollable bullet points instead of a block of text (see below for an example).
  • There’s a glaring spelling error on far too many screens – the “Take Practice Quize” button (see below). I would not expect this from an app that was “Developed By Expert Teachers.”
  • What appear to be breadcrumbs just under the app banner near the top of the screen don’t actually link to the pages they describe.

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I emailed a Lumos representative on January 8 to ask about these and other issues. On January 23, I received an email that contained several answers from Ray Shawn, who says he’s “responsible for app development activities within our team.” (On his LinkedIn profile, he states that he’s “Project Co-ordinator – Library Programs at Lumos Learning.”)

Perhaps the most telling piece of information he shared was this:

We also have an Android version of the app on Google Play and Amazon Store. We’d love for you to experience that too. It has a few additional features compared to the iOS app.

I don’t have an Android device, so my experience was limited to the iOS app.

He also said they’ll fix the spelling error in an upcoming release and that “Currently, the breadcrumbs only informs (sic) you about navigation to the current screen. We are working on making it clickable.”

Shawn also told me that ” If you click on the ‘Try Free’ link, it only lets you access the Standards & Online Workbooks,” so he gave me a test login.

So, on January 26, I gave the app another chance.

Once I got into the tests, I ran into other issues on at least every second screen I saw. Here’s a selection of the issues, complete with screenshots.

I answered a question incorrectly. Lumos reported the “Your Answer” and “Correct Answer” fields below not with the letters in the multiple-choice question but with… well, what you see below.

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I wanted to read some introductory text, but when I came to this screen I quickly realized the app does not incorporate responsive design, or the ability for the app to automatically tailor contents to the size of the device used to read it. Worse, pinch to zoom does not work here, or in other areas of the app I tried.

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The following question caught my attention for two reasons. One, I found it odd that the problem would use both metric and imperial measures. That kind of thinking was what doomed one NASA mission to Mars over a decade ago.

The second is an editing issue. The problem gives the scale for the actual object in feet, yet the answers are provided in inches. That would be fine, an extra challenge for students. But the numbers given demand an answer in feet.

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I answered the question incorrectly, and the app told me B, which ought to read 11.2 feet, not 11.2 inches.

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The issues aren’t limited to the Math section. This reading comprehension question works fine but for the fact that you can’t read the whole question properly. It gets cut off at the right edge of the screen, and there’s no way to scroll it.

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I chose to stop my review here. Given the number of user interface and editing problems the app suffers, I can’t believe it would help students or that any self-respecting teachers or parents would work with the app, at least on the iOS platform.

If the anonymous reviews posted on the Lumos site are any indication, the app is popular with adults, so don’t let my difficulties with it stop you from trying it. Unfortunately, that’s the most positive thing I can say about the app right now. If you’re looking for an app to supplement your child’s learning, I advise you give Lumos a pass.

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