The research is in: Boost test scores with two IXL skills a week

Did you know IXL can increase test scores and improve learning growth by reaching a SmartScore of 80 (proficiency!) in at least two skills a week? The study IXL Implementation Fidelity and Usage Recommendations shows the data behind this finding!

Interpreting the data

In this paper, researchers sought to answer the question: Do students who reach proficiency in two skills a week outperform students who use IXL but do not meet this goal? 

Over 12 weeks, the team monitored IXL usage and then compared students’ scores on NWEA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) from before and after the study to formally assess the added value of the usage target. 

Data were collected from 1,746 students in grades 3-5 from five public elementary schools in an urban district in the Midwest U.S. Participants were a diverse set of learners including students with Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs), English language learners (ELLs), and students who qualified for free/reduced lunch. All students had access to both IXL Math and IXL ELA.

Similar to previous research, the team found there was a positive relationship between IXL usage and MAP scores. In other words, regardless of other factors, the more IXL is used the higher test scores will be!

More interestingly, this study found that within groups that used IXL, those that met the goal of two skills proficient per week scored significantly higher on MAP than those with lower or less focused IXL usage. So educators looking to boost student achievement and help students to make sizable gains should consider aiming for this weekly usage target.

Smart goal setting

You may be asking, why two skills a week? Learning theory and empirical evidence have shown that setting specific, challenging, but attainable goals are related to better learning outcomes. Previous research has found that reachable, short-term goals benefit motivation and learning, especially for students with learning difficulties. Additionally, learning goals, unlike performance goals, emphasize a student’s feelings of success, leading to enhanced motivation and better achievement. 

By setting the goal to reach a SmartScore of 80 (i.e. skill proficiency) in two skills a week, students are able to challenge themselves appropriately with a specific objective. IXL’s SmartScore measures a student’s current understanding of the skill they’re working on. With every question a student answers, the score will adjust up or down to reflect their level of mastery based on accuracy, consistency, question difficulty, and recent question responses. A SmartScore of 80 equates to proficiency, meaning the student has a solid understanding of the material, even if they haven’t completely mastered it yet. 

Measuring the number of skills proficient provides us information on how engaged a learner is with IXL and how much they’ve learned on a specific topic, not just how long they’ve practiced. The short-term weekly goal of two skills proficient a week keeps learners focused on a small, achievable target that gradually moves them closer to their longer-term learning goals. 

Boost performance with better motivation

During the study, the team observed cross-subject benefits for both math and ELA. Study groups who reached the proficiency goal in one subject were likely to have increased performance in the other subject. While the exact cause of this phenomenon needs further research, one hypothesis is that increased student motivation from having a specific and attainable goal boosts learners’ overall motivation to learn!

The team also surveyed the participating teachers to find out what worked best in the classroom. For both math and ELA, teachers agreed that reaching proficiency in two skills a week was an appropriate and feasible goal for their students. 

To help teachers reach the proficiency goal, we suggest tying skill practice to a weekly schedule, and choosing a proficiency target that’s appropriate for each classroom.

This peer-reviewed paper provides the first piece of empirical evidence that reaching proficiency in two skills a week results in higher student performance.

Read the full study or explore more of our research