Our Story

Uni-SPIRE evolved from a search for an effective formative writing assessment tool to a company serving an international assessment need. Dr. Debbie Powell developed a K-5 writing continuum in 2004, correlated it to the Common Core in 2010 and piloted it with elementary teachers in 2011. Teachers not only found it valuable, but suggested that it should be online. That’s where the story really begins.

Zach Wilson, a brilliant computer science masters student, and Dr. Debbie Powell together created the functionality for teachers across the content areas to easily, accurately and quickly evaluate students’ strengths and needs. They created a tool that gives good teachers the information they require to become great teachers.

With the valuable assistance of 74 university students to date, the Universal Writing Continuum has expanded from PK to grade 12, with an advanced level for dual credit and honors classes. We have piloted the instrument with over 90 teachers in 5 states to learn how we can improve it even more. We have continued to hold true to our original values that we would create an easy-to-use formative assessment to give educators data to deliver more effective writing instruction.

Uni-SPIRE was started with some support from the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Research Foundation to continue to produce trustworthy curriculum, assessment and professional development based on strong empirical evidence. The company is unique because the majority of the research and development of the Universal Writing Continuum has been developed in conjunction with the University of North Carolina Wilmington and its Watson College of Education. Graduate and undergraduate students from Information Systems/Computer Science, Education, Graphic Design, Marketing, Communications, Film and Instructional Technology have made major contributions to the website, continuum, research, professional development and marketing of the product. Uni-SPIRE is truly a “university-inspired” company.

Our Values

  • Learning generally begins with a need to know and can be facilitated by a knowledgeable, caring teacher who models, assesses, gives meaningful feedback, plans instruction to meet students’ needs, and is not hesitant to allow students to take risks and responsibility for their own learning.
  • Students attain higher achievement gains when they are provided (a) adequate time to learn what is meaningful to them; (b) some choices in what and how they learn and how they are assessed; (c) responsibility for problem solving and co-constructing learning with adequate teacher feedback along the way; and (d) opportunities and encouragement to self-evaluate their own learning
  • Teachers inspire learners. The teaching profession becomes more challenging each year, but when we support teachers to become the best they can be by providing effective assessment tools, curriculum and professional development, they have opportunities daily to make a difference in the life of a child or teen.
  • Trust is a critical condition of learning. We trust teachers to make effective decisions regarding assessment and instruction. We trust students to construct their own understandings with teacher guidance and to take responsibility for their learning.
  • Teamwork and collaboration among universities, schools, parents, K-12 students, departments of public instruction, and other education-focused small businesses and non-profits are necessary to improve K-12 education in the U.S. and for students to excel in school and in the workplace.

Mission Statement

Uni-SPIRE aims to impact PK-12 teachers’ understanding of effective instruction in English language arts, mathematics, science, history and integrated curriculum by producing quality research-based assessments, data analyses, professional development and curricular materials that lead to an increase in student achievement, not only on standardized assessments but for readiness for college and careers.

The Founder

Dr. Debbie Powell has 45 years experience in education as a teacher, administrator, curriculum specialist and publishing consultant. She earned her Ed.D., M.S. and B.S. from Indiana University. Her expertise lies in her ability to understand the needs of classroom teachers and to address those in conjunction with the standards and research-supported best practices to create effective curriculum that maximizes student progress. She is an outstanding teacher, with 10 years experience in kindergarten through grade 8 in Indiana, Florida and Missouri. She has 23 years experience in higher education at the University of Northern Colorado, Missouri State University and the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She left higher education and went back to teaching in a small, rural K-8 school for two years during the early implementation of NCLB to have first-hand knowledge of the new law and it’s application. She has written or edited books, book chapters and numerous articles and was selected as a visiting scholar at University of Melbourne, Australia in 1991-92. Debbie has a wide-range of consulting experience with educational and trade publishers on projects in reading, writing, science, social studies, assessment and integrated curriculum.

To fulfill a creative urge, she started Chase Tiles, and for 10 years she designed decorative ceramic tiles that replicated fossils, animal tracks and other nature themes. The company was recognized as the Start-Up Company of the year for 1999 by the Missouri Small Business Development Center.

Debbie retired from the Language and Literacy Program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington in 2016. She has formed Uni-SPIRE to channel both her educational and business experience into producing programs that can make a significant difference in teachers’ knowledge and skills and, in turn, positively impact student achievement. Debbie has devoted countless hours to make this formative assessment tool useful, reliable, easy-to-use and one that will suggest the next steps for instruction for each student, pre-kindergarten to grade 12.

Debbie has 3 sons, 5 grandsons, and 1 great-grandson and 2 wonderful daughter-in-laws. She and her husband love to travel, read, walk on the beach, garden and watch Indiana University basketball.