Mastering Middle School Math with IXL

A case study of Pinellas County Schools in Florida

Pinellas County Schools prides itself on its commitment to “growing greatness in each and every child,” with a strong emphasis on preparing students for college and career success. As part of this mission, they ensure that every child has the opportunity to take higher-level courses, regardless of standardized test scores. However, some students entering middle school need more support to reinforce their knowledge of foundational math and advance to higher-level courses.

The Challenge: Missing Math Skills 

Palm Harbor Middle School, where Melissa Athanson is principal, offers an accelerated curriculum and most students graduate with three or more high school credits. Oak Grove Middle School, where Judith McIntosh teaches 7th- and 8th-grade math, is a Title I school in an urban area. 

At both schools, math teachers were faced with a challenge: Students were coming in from the elementary schools with a broad range of skill levels and many were not prepared to make the leap to middle school math. Judith says, “A lot of my students were missing the foundations of mathematics, such as knowing how to multiply and divide—things you need to be able to do to be successful with 7th- or 8th-grade math.” 

After researching personalized learning platforms, Melissa secured an IXL Math pilot program in 2018-19 for Palm Harbor. Pinellas County Schools rolled out the program to all middle schools in 2019-20. 

Creating Opportunities for Accelerated Learning 

IXL Math gives teachers a tool for individualized instruction and practice so they can better meet the needs of all students. Melissa says, “IXL spans the gamut. If I have students coming in at a 2nd-grade level or lower, and others coming in ready for Algebra 2, it provides something for everyone.” Math teachers in Pinellas County use IXL to reinforce skills they are teaching in class, provide opportunities for students to catch up, and to practice at home.

Students get instant feedback on their progress and clear step-by-step explanations if they get a problem wrong. Teachers can see in real-time how students are doing and provide support and intervention for students who are struggling. Since IXL Analytics tracks student progress, teachers can focus on planning instruction and effectively responding to student needs. 

Support for Data-Driven Instructional Decisions 

IXL Math also supports another important district initiative: the move to data-driven instruction. Melissa says, “We’re a very data-rich district, with lots of different data points—which can be overwhelming. Teachers don’t necessarily know how to take all that data and use it in the classroom.” IXL Analytics provides teachers with reports that are easy to understand, relevant for daily instruction, and highly actionable. “It’s the most user-friendly program I’ve ever seen. The system takes the data and puts it in terms that are easy to understand, so you can see exactly how much progress students have made and what they need to work on next. That’s a huge benefit for teachers.”

The move towards data-driven instruction is critical to meeting the district’s achievement goals. Melissa says, “This has been the biggest shift I have seen over my 24-year career in education. Before, everything was curriculum-based—you started at the beginning of the book and went to the end. Now, it’s standards-based and mastery-based. It’s a complete 180.” With IXL Math, they now have a tool to help them make that shift. 

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

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