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apps study

Research says these math, ELA apps may be the most effective


When used regularly, some apps show a correlation to increased student achievement

Most school’s aren’t using learning apps enough to actually impact student outcomes–but some might help students increase achievement, according to new research from BrightByes.

Many students don’t meet the target number of instructional minutes ed-tech app providers recommend, and average app use of fairly low across schools and districts.

The study, authored by Dr. Ryan Baker, director of the Penn Center for Learning Analytics, uses data from 48 school districts with more than 390,000 students. It measures digital app use in three areas: investment (subscription cost, number of licenses, and active/inactive users), engagement (student use, session duration, frequency, and quality), and impact (relationship between standardized test scores and student use).

The research revealed a few key findings about general app use:

1. Rates of app use matter–sometimes. Many apps in the study didn’t have any impact on student learning, regardless of student use rates. Still, a few in the study were associated with positive learning gains with proper use.

2. Most purchased licenses don’t get used. License use varies by app, but the study found that a median of 30 percent of licenses are used by learners.

3. The number of purchased licenses doesn’t predict the number of intensive users. Intensive use means a learner uses the app or program for at least 10 hours between assignments, and 97.6 percent of licenses analyzed in the study were never used intensively. The number of licenses purchased did not predict the number of intensive users.

4. Many schools don’t give students enough time with the apps to really improve outcomes. Lower usage likely contributes to lower-than-expected benefits for students, meaning some apps do hold more potential than educators realize.

In analyzing apps for math tests, researchers found that for 21 apps, the more time a student used one of them, the more their math test performance improved from a first assessment to a second. And for 24 math apps, the more days the student used the app, the more their math test performance improved between assessments, though the researchers note that these findings are correlational rather than causal.

Some of the most effective apps, in terms of days used, include ALEKS, Wikipedia, LearnZillion, DreamBox, Seesaw, Starfall, and Mission US. In terms of time spent using the app, the most effective apps include Kids Discover Online, Seesaw, DreamBox, Starfall, and LearnZillion. Many of the top 10 apps in the impact per days used ranking also appear in the top 10 for the impact per time spent ranking.

When it comes to English and language arts apps, the more time students used 10 specific apps, the more their ELA test performance improved from the first assessment to the second. Likewise, the more days students used one of 11 apps, the more their ELA performance improved.

Top apps in terms of days used include Varsity Tutors, LearnZillion, Wikipedia, BrainingCamp, and Google Classroom. In terms of time spent, top apps include LearnZillion, TED-Ed, and Brainingcamp.

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Laura Ascione

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