Adapting to students’ needs at every level

A case study of Alpha: Blanca Alvarado School in San Jose, California

The motto for Alpha Public Schools is “Expect More. Achieve More.” Alpha: Blanca Alvarado School turned to IXL to help their students do exactly that. IXL has made it easier for teachers to identify and respond to individual student learning needs. Steve Seo, a 5th-grade math and science teacher, says, “We have leaned heavily on IXL, and the consensus of the teachers is that it has been very effective. IXL allows us to be more responsive, so we can meet the needs of our students at every level.” 

Meeting the Needs of Learners in Underserved Communities 

Alpha: Blanca Alvarado School is a charter school in east San Jose. Alpha Public Schools is a network of charter schools in the Bay Area that seeks to provide opportunities for students in underserved and underrepresented communities. As a Title I charter school, Blanca Alvarado serves a diverse community of students with a range of learning backgrounds.

Steve explains, “We see large achievement gaps in our community. Since we are a charter school, we don’t have a specific feeder school pattern; our 5th graders are coming from all over. Our first challenge is to identify where the gaps are.” To meet these diverse needs, Steve looks for materials that can be adapted to the needs of each student.

Eliminating the “Detective Work” of Identifying Student Needs

At the beginning of the year, Steve uses the IXL Real-Time Diagnostic to assess each student’s overall skill level and determine what instruction they need. Throughout the year, the diagnostic allows him to see their progress and adjust his lessons.

Steve also appreciates how easy it is to align the work students are doing in IXL Math with their Eureka Math curriculum through IXL skill plans, which guide him step by step. Blanca Alvarado uses a 90-minute block schedule for math and English language arts. During Steve’s math class, he spends 20 to 30 minutes on direct instruction to introduce a new topic. Then, students work on the skill in IXL during class time.

Steve says the clean, simple user interface and immediate feedback in IXL really help his students. “There aren’t a lot of distractions,” he says. “It’s very straightforward, and my students like that. With some programs, students can get overwhelmed with all that extra stuff on the screen instead of focusing on the problem. With IXL, they stay focused on learning.” Steve says the focused lessons and examples in IXL work better for his students’ attention span than longer videos. “With IXL, they can get right to what they need to focus on,” he says. 

Helping Students Succeed with Rigorous Curriculum

Steve says that his students are performing above the district average in math since implementing IXL, and his co-teacher in English language arts has seen similar gains. While the school will not have benchmark data for the spring of 2020 due to the pandemic, he says students showed very strong gains in the first half of the 2019-20 school year. “At the beginning of this past school year, our skills gap was huge for our incoming 5th graders,” he said. “The growth that we saw in just half a year was enormous.”

Students are also motivated by seeing their overall progress in the IXL Real-Time Diagnostic. “I love having IXL to reinforce and reteach,” Steve says. “It’s a very versatile tool, and really builds their confidence.” 

A Versatile Tool for Virtual Learning

When Blanca Alvarado moved to distance learning in the spring of 2020, Steve and his co-teachers found themselves relying even more on IXL. Steve used IXL to show example problems on his daily Zoom classes with students. Then, students worked on skills in IXL independently along with homework from their Eureka Math program. 

Steve said, “I always recommended to them that they complete their work in IXL first. IXL is really a very condensed and straightforward teaching lesson in itself. During that time, it reinforced what I was trying to do in direct instruction.” 

A copy of the full case study is available for download here.

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