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‘Study Buddies’ program delivers results

A unique study program helped an Indiana school boost its state test performance.

Sometimes, the best thing we can give our students to ensure academic success is attention. However, with funding tight, finding the resources to give the attention your students need can leave you looking in new places.

Two years ago, Parkview Elementary School in northwest Indiana launched an innovative program in cooperation with students from nearby Valparaiso University. The Study Buddy program at our Title I school targeted students in grades 2-5 who did not pass the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress (ISTEP+). Understanding that the best practice of all is practice, we tackled the challenge of increasing ISTEP+ passing rates among this group with regular practice by leveraging three powerful tools:

  • Dedicated student mentors from the local university
  • Using “think-aloud” strategies
  • Study Island, an online practice, instruction, and learning program built from Indiana’s ISTEP+ standards

In the first year alone, students participating in the Study Buddy program doubled the ISTEP+ passing rate. And the following year, the rate of those passing maintained strong, even as we expanded the criteria of students involved in the program to include a more challenged group.

It started when I came to Parkview three years ago and saw a need for greater interventions for students who were not passing the ISTEP+. Additionally, through my membership on the Professional Educator’s Partnership Board at Valparaiso University, which is located near Parkview’s campus, I recognized an untapped resource. My relationship with Valparaiso and its close proximity has led to a constant presence of college students at our school, which had a positive impact on the population of nearly 300 students.

Parkview was already using Study Island when I came to the school. I saw teachers using it as a resource in varying degrees for math, reading, science, and social studies. Additionally, I read some research on the product and heard good things from other principals and districts.

At the same time, we had an opportunity to further use Valparaiso students as mentors in our intervention efforts with students who did not pass ISTEP+. We recognized the opportunity to leverage Study Island through the positive influence of attentive college students, and launched the Study Buddy program in my second year. Valparaiso students first trained on Study Island, then learned to use the think-aloud strategy with the ISTEP+ intervention students.

With think-aloud, educators ask students to verbalize what they are thinking when reading, solving math problems, or responding to questions. Effective teachers think out loud on a regular basis to model the process, which allows them to demonstrate how to approach difficult problems while gaining insight into the thinking processes that underlie demanding cognitive tasks like reading comprehension or mathematical problem-solving.

Using Study Island’s printable worksheets, Valparaiso students sat down with their buddies to solve problems using think-aloud, so the mentors could understand what students were thinking every step of the way and guide instruction accordingly. Parkview students then completed practice lessons in Study Island, ultimately earning rewards such as games and blue ribbons when they mastered key skills and objectives.

The Study Buddy program allowed us to harness accessible and proven resources when working with our ISTEP+  intervention students, upping our engagement, productivity, and ultimately, our results.

All of this is not to diminish the key role Parkview teachers played in achieving and measuring the success of the Study Buddy program. As the explicit designers of each Study Island assignment, their communication and sharing of data with the Valparaiso students allowed them to track progress and confirm the Study Buddy program’s success.

While passing rates for intervention students hovered between 20 and 40 percent before the Study Buddy program, the first year saw 81 percent of the participating students pass ISTEP+. The following year, when we expanded the program to include a more challenged student population, the percentage of passing students held steady at 78 percent.

Two years into the program, our school was recognized at the 64th Association of Teacher Educators Fall Conference as one of three Outstanding Successful Schools in Indiana. This was an incredible honor for everyone involved, but for us, the real payoff has been seeing the results a community-based program has yielded. We saw these kids pass with the Study Buddy program, when they had not passed in years before. This program has been pivotal in helping our students succeed.

Anne Wodetzki is the principal of Parkview Elementary School in Valparaiso, Indiana.

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