Please note: I received a free one- year membership to IXL for two students from IXL Learning in exchange for my honest review.
Ah yes, educational gaps – blank spots in our children’s learning – one of the homeschool parent’s greatest fears! How do we assess gaps and address them so we can be sure our children are getting a thorough, well-rounded education? When I received an annual membership to IXL for review, I was hopeful this would be an answer to a prayer for my family. In this post, I will share a bit about our experience in order to help you evaluate whether IXL would be a good fit for your children.
What is IXL?
From their website, IXL is “an immersive K-12 learning experience that provides comprehensive, standards-aligned content for math, language arts, science, and social studies.” They also offer Spanish skills practice for those interested (and a spanish version of the entire program for spanish speaking families).
The continuous diagnostic – a tool for identifying problem areas…
Once my children’s accounts were set up, we spent about a week completing questions for the continuous diagnotic – a method of evaluating your child’s mastery in all subject areas. What is really interesting about this diagnotic is that it is never really “completed”. The more questions your child answers, the more specific information you will be given about where your child is at academically, and what skills need further practice or instruction. On that note, I recommend setting a timer and having your child work through as many questions as he can in that period of time. You can go back to this diagnostic at any time to complete more exercises and the program will adjust your child’s reccommendations accordingly. We spent about 15 minutes a day over the course of a week just on this area of the program before moving on to the reccommendations. You can then view your child’s diagnotic stats at any time.
Here, it is showing my son’s reading level is between 370-540 – meaning his ability is somewhere between upper third grade to middle fifth grade levels. It breaks each area down further into specific skill areas so you have a better idea of what your child needs to strengthen. From this information I can see that a lack of mastery of vocabulary related skills may be affecting his overall reading level. I may want to consider adding some daily vocabulary practice into our daily homeschool routine.
Filling those gaps and weak skill areas…
Once you feel you have enough data from the continuous diagnostic, it is time to begin to tackle those problem areas which the program has identified. This is done through a set of customized recommendations.
When your child logs in and clicks on the “recommendations” tab, he will be given a plethora of optional skills to work on. You may choose a skill area for him, or he may scroll through and choose exercises on his own (the latter being what we have chosen to do). Once they click on a skill set, they will be taken to a set of exercises to work through.
In this example above, we’ve selected the fifth grade reading strategies skill of matching problems and solutions. As the child goes through and answers questions, the data on the right will keep track of how many questions he has answered, how much time he has spent in this skill, and his “Smart Score”. The goal is for the child to get a score of 90 to acheive proficiency in that skill set, while a score of 100 means the child has mastered that skill and has successfully answered even the most difficult questions in that set.
Beyond just assessing what the child has answered correctly, the Smart Score uses a unique algorithim to compute scores. The program takes into account how many questions have been answered, the difficulty of those questions, consistency (number of correct answers consecutively), and how recently questions have been answered. It is an extremely effective way of assessing mastery and this is what we use to measure how many questions to attempt. I require my child to work on a specific skill set until one of the following happens – he has spent ten minutes on that set OR he has received a Smart Score of 90.
Sometimes, he will not be able to make much progress with a skill set. At the bottom of each exercise screen there is text that says, “Not feeling ready yet? These can help”. Then there are links to related skills at lower levels that may be a better starting point if the child is frustrated. Alternatively, you can sit down with your child and lead him through some exercises to provide some instruction to better equip them to improve that skill area on their own.
Motivation and rewards…
From the student page, your child can access the “awards” tab which will show all they have accomplished since beginning the program. Here is an example from my ten year old’s awards page…
Each level of language arts and math has its own awards page. There is also a certificate center where you can view and print certificates celebrating your child’s acheivements! My ten year old especially loves showing off his progress with these certificates! We have printed and hung several for both of my boys in our schoolroom.
Why we love using IXL…
I require both of my boys (ages 10 and 17) to use IXL at least three days a week for 20 minutes a day. It really doesn’t take a large amount of time for them to make real progress in improving lower level skills that they need reinforced! I know some parents choose to use it daily for shorter amounts of time. How often and how long you decide to use the program is really up to you and your child. My 17 year old began doing longer sessions, but after a few days of frustration (he really struggles in math), we decided 15-20 minutes was plenty.
Because it is online, they can practice on the computer or on their tablet easily. It hasn’t been stressful to add into our routine as they aren’t really doing any additional writing and it can be done on their own time. The skill areas are very thorough and have really helped to improve those weak areas in their learning. As horrifying as it was to see so many gaps in certain areas, it’s reassuring to know we are actively working to remedy them without overwhelming the boys.
I would heartily recommend IXL to any parent (homeschool or public school) who is concerned about educational gaps in their child’s learning!