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Game-Based Learning: Outcomes from Two Research Studies on Prodigy Math in Council Bluffs Community School District

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In the fall of 2020, Dr. Corey Vorthmann, the Chief Academic Officer at Iowa’s Council Bluffs Community School District (CBCSD) was hard-at-work preparing the district’s Return to Learn Plan. According to Dr. Vorthmann, in a time of great uncertainty, a game-based tool like Prodigy Math is a great optional tool “that provide[s] access to high-quality mathematics content for students learning.” Furthermore, the game-based learning approach can help keep students motivated regardless of where they are learning.

After allowing schools and teachers to organically implement Prodigy Math to meet their needs, personnel from Prodigy Education teamed up with Dr. Vorthmann and Dr. Marty Shudak, the Director of Assessment, Data Management, and Program Evaluation at the CBCSD. Our goal? To better understand the relationship between the use of Prodigy Math and student learning outcomes. Read more to find out why Dr. Vorthmann says “After crunching the numbers, I’m convinced that something special happens when kids use Prodigy!”

Council Bluffs Community School District logo.

Game-based learning through Prodigy Math: Does it work?

Overall, there were two key findings regarding student learning outcomes that surfaced as a result of our research:

Key Finding from Study #1: High levels of Prodigy Math usage among elementary school students in CBCSD had a potentially positive effect on academic improvement* on NWEA MAP® outcomes.

Key Finding from Study #2: For students in the 5th and 6th grade, each additional hour spent answering questions in Prodigy Math was associated with a 0.73 point higher scale score* on the 2020–21 ISASP (the end-of-year state assessment in Iowa), after controlling for the 2018–19 ISASP and demographic characteristics.

Study #1: Use of Prodigy Math and NWEA MAP® growth in 2020–2021

One of the ways that the CBCSD team aims to understand students’ academic progress is through the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) Measures of Academic Progress (MAP®) assessment. Students complete the NWEA MAP® assessment three times every school year (fall, winter, and spring). Student scores can help educators understand individual student strengths and areas where some extra attention may be needed.

We wanted to understand the relationship between how many math skills students mastered on Prodigy Math and the change in their NWEA MAP® scores. For example: Did students who mastered many math skills on Prodigy Math consistently see a greater improvement in their NWEA MAP® scores compared to their peers who mastered fewer math skills on Prodigy Math?

In analyzing the performance of 3,274 students ranging from Kindergarten to 4th grade, the research team discovered that high levels of Prodigy Math usage among elementary school students in CBCSD had a potentially positive effect with regards to academic improvement* on NWEA MAP® outcomes.

Classroom in a Council Bluffs Community School District school.

Study #2: Use of Prodigy Math and ISASP growth from 2018–2019 to 2020–2021

In Iowa, students in 3rd through 10th grade usually take the Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress (ISASP) at the end of each school year. While students completed the assessment in 2018–19 and in 2020–21, they did not take it in 2019–20 due to the COVID–19 pandemic. This assessment provides critical insight into academic performance.

Similar to the previous study on NWEA MAP® performance, we analyzed the ISASP scores of 1,390 students in 5th, 6th, and 7th grade in both 2018–19 and 2020–21. This allowed us to better understand whether the amount of time students spent answering math questions on Prodigy Math (not just in general gameplay) impacted students’ academic outcomes.

What we found was a positive relationship showing that, for each additional hour CBCSD students in 5th and 6th grade spent answering math questions on Prodigy Math, the students would on average score 0.73 points higher on the ISASP scale score. So, what does that mean?

To be considered proficient in math, year over year, students need to gain approximately 20.5 scale score points. As a result, we can extrapolate that, to see a roughly 20% gain (4.1 scale score points) on the ISASP, 5th and 6th grade students may want to consider spending approximately 50 minutes per week on Prodigy Math.**

Chart showing Prodigy Math usage and improvement in student achievement for 5th & 6th grade students at CBCSD (Iowa).

Key takeaways

If you’re intrigued by the findings outlined in this blog post, there is much more you can do:

At Prodigy Education, we are thrilled to have had the opportunity to co-author this research study with the team at Council Bluffs Community School District. We look forward to additional opportunities to better understand the relationship between student use of Prodigy Math and student academic and attitudinal outcomes.

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