Monday, May 4, 2009

Study Island

Leslie just came back from a visit with a friend from a neighboring town. Andrea has a child in elementary school. Dana is gifted. She is an A student. And she spends hours on "Study Island."

The folks at Study Island keep track of Dana's answers. They keep track of how much time she spends there. They make this information available to Dana's teachers and administrators. Dana can see a timer window ticking off her time as she becomes a more productive consumer, preparing to compete in the global economy.

Her teacher monitors her time on-line. She has been up as late as 11 P.M. trying to satisfy her teacher's requirements.

Study Island is owned by a company in Dallas, Texas--the company brags about the " 960,134 sessions administered per day." They tout their competitive pricing, failing to see the true costs.

Dana may indeed do a little better on the state tests. I suppose the tears and upset tummy are worth all this, because education is all about the test scores, and life is all about out-competing the less-than-American children involved in the global economy.

While Dana works on Study Island, I play on Cape May Island. This past weekend I managed to get stung by a wasp, poked by an errant hook, pinched by a tiny crab, chilled by walking in the surf while it rained.

Meanwhile Dana logged in time on Study Island.

I wasted time watching dolphins eat no more than 10 yards away from me. I dawdled away a sunset or two. I planted some basil that germinated on my dining room table, decidedly less efficient than buying seedlings at the local Megamart.

Meanwhile Dana logged in time on Study Island.

I wasted time trading stories with other adults wiling away time at the ocean's edge. Thankfully the children are kept safe, tucked behind screens, preparing for a real life.

Meanwhile Dana logged in time on Study Island.

On the beach life consumes life--the sun's energy now warms up the local waters, energy that might, in a few months, fuel hurricanes. Summer is a dangerous time--sunburn, jelly fish, and errant drivers.

No worries, though--our Secretary of Education hopes to make summer less dangerous for Dana by extending school:

"Go ahead and boo me," Duncan told about 400 middle- and high-school students at a public school in Denver. "I fundamentally think that our school day is too short, our school week is too short and our school year is too short.

"You're competing for jobs with kids from India and China. I think schools should be open six, seven days a week; 11, 12 months a year."

I'm not sure how much Dana is learning on Study Island, but she's learning this much--her time belongs to others, and others will make sure she does not waste it.

Back when I was a child, I had to worry about God, Santa, and angels peering over my shoulder. As weird as that sometimes felt, I doubt it could compare with knowing your teacher is monitoring you at home.

That's just creepy.


Tom Hoffman said...

So... once we have all our teacher by teacher longitudinal tracking systems, and our national standards, and our oh so effective supplemental online learning systems... wait, whose performance are the tests tracking? Can I file a grievance if my district doesn't chain my students to Fantasy Island?

John Spencer said...

Two other things India and China have:

1. Child labor (though technically illegal in India)
2. Child prostitution

I'm not sure we need to look to them for advice on how to deal with children.

John Spencer said...

The term "study island" says it all. We're making children into islands, unable to find their way to the mainland, where they can enjoy the benefits of play and community.

lucychili said...

Generalisations swing in many directions.
India also has Geetha Narayanan, I think
she has much to offer.

Tim McEwen said...

While I appreciate your concern for children, you are misrepresenting the mission and values of Study Island. Our program is a student-centered instructional program designed to help students master content in reading, math, science and social studies. The program is fun and engaging, uses a well-researched scaffolding approach to content mastery, and enables students to take control of their own learning. If students have the will and work through each Study Island content module, they will become proficient in each subject area while enjoying the learning process. That said, Study Islsand is one tool and needs to be used appropriately by teachers and parents. Moreover, doing well on high stakes assessments is a by-product of content mastery gained through Study Island, not a goal in and of itself.

As for the reporting tools in Study Island, the purpose is to provide formative assessment to inform teacher or parent instruction. It is not meant to be "big brother," as Study Island adheres to FERPA requirements and has very secure data systems.

With 68% of our new customers coming through word-of-mouth endorsements from othe educators, we believe Study Island provides islands of educational excellence in a sea of lifelong learning.

Tim McEwen
Study Island

Gym334 said...

This is where I came in only then, 35 years ago it was Japan we were wanting American educators to model. Problem we did not have Japanese children and culture.
I also really admire this lack of confidence in public education and classroom teachers. Thirty years ago I could not pry a computer out of anyone in my district's administration, nor could I convince a single one of those "Old Fats" that computers were the tool of the (Then coming) 21st century.
Now here we are with an education system created by politicians who could not give less of a damn about educating anyone as long as they can blame their screw ups on teachers (OH yes, 'BAD TEACHERS").
They have their "High stakes" testing, and ways to jack those score to show whatever the want. Higher scores on tests they construct when they want to win elections. Lower scores on tests they construct when they want to "Outsource" education to their contributors (Charter schools, Computer learning outfits, Home schooling companies). Meanwhile they pay teachers like ditch diggers and complain that they can't find motivated classroom teachers.
Hey, great. Lets compare our system to every system in the world, and pretend that countries that make no effort to educate every kid, that spend Zero dollars on helping "Special kids,"and that would tolerate a discipline problem for about sixty seconds provide a fair comparison based on some home cooked "High Stakes test."
Maybe then these idiots can "Out source" public education the way they have out sourced national defense. Then their dream of a Plutonian Utopia where a small elite class shepherd an uneducated populace that is so ignorant and ii-informed (Or Misinformed) that they can be lead around by their nose as long as we provide "Bread for the mob." "We are Rome!"

Jonthan said...

If you have not read Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods, I believe you will find it worth your time.

nashworld said...

@ Jonathan - glad i'm not the only one touting that book to the ol' guy. i enjoyed it as well.

@ Mr. McEwen - i will certainly give you the benefit of the doubt on your mission since i have yet to really explore the product in depth. you also must know that i am a big fan of many approaches to information and communications technology as it is used in educational settings.

however, (and this is just a marketing hint to help you slide into the door of a few more teachers who have managed to maintain a mind of their own) remove the text that reads: "Web-based standards mastery products." i race my left brain to mouse-click the browser window closed at breakneck speed when i see such text. i just don't have time to waste on such things.

don't take this wrong. i really do admire your attempt to make a buck helping out the system here. even this type of educational focus has at least some merit in some way.

what does "student-centered" really mean to you? if you don't mind, i'd like you to extend your very-understandable defense to this idea.

"mastering" facts from state standards with no real contextual connection to real life (you can say they do- but they don't on the ground level in most classrooms- huge disconnect there) ...will just seem silly to any kid who hasn't been misled into thinking that chasing test scores is the holy grail.

my oldest child is two and i cannot imagine her sitting for hours drilling multiple choice questions that are tracked in some way. i am either going to be a very stressed parent, or move to a very progressive school. wow.

so yes- i just spent a bit of time on the "samples" page of study island. checked on my good ol' friend photosynthesis in fact. clicked on the "lesson" (up popped a graphic & textual "note sheet" for lack of a better term). there was no "lesson"- merely a sheet of facts.

can you also explain exactly how the site is "scaffolded?" that can either be a really powerful word in instructional circles, or a dead buzzword- depending on the execution. i'm trying to figure out which here. on my "study session" after actually reading the first two for accuracy, i clicked away on the subsequent eight items until i was scolded because the system "detected that i was guessing." so i had to wait to find out that i, in fact missed the final eight for a 20% score of "needs improvement."

"improvement" on what exactly? the test score? on photosynthesis? how do i improve that? what were the misconceptions that led to my incorrect answers? what crucial understanding do i need to more forward? simply another set of multiple guess questions?

it would also help to know that... in my school that just isn't good enough. if you fail a student in my district, if your administrator is doing their job looking out for the kids in the school, they won't want to know 20% or 59%... they will ask "so what are the skills little sean is lacking?" knowing a number correct on a photosynthesis multiple guess (sorry- "selected response" - reminds me of the word "casualty") quiz is not "student-centered." in fact, it isn't even "teacher-driven" (the evil twin of the first in eduspeak). what i saw was code-driven and 100% directed by someone other than the student.

i read on the site that the "dynamic content keeps students engaged." dynamic content? who doesn't have a ear perk up to that pairing of words? but then it goes on to describe it as:

"The answers to the multiple-choice questions rotate positions, and the numbers in the math questions are chosen randomly, resulting in a deeper understanding of the concepts, as opposed to memorization of the answers.the answers switch places? seriously? that's dynamic? this prevents memorization of the answer, or the specific order of the answers?

if you could really motivate the majority of kids with this type of exercise, the world would be a much easier place for certain. a very unsettling and largely unexciting place as well... but easier for certain.

i also gleaned from the note sheet here that oxygen gas is a by-product of photosynthesis. i also see from your post that: "doing well on high stakes assessments is a by-product of content mastery gained through Study Island."

i know which by-product i personally prefer.

Jude Benedict said...

I wish you were my teacher. If living the Bohemian lifestyle prepares one for success, I can't wait to describe a wasp at my first job interview.

doyle said...

Dear Tom,

We have become, alas, a nation stranded on Fantasy Island. While I am not opposed to unions, the NEA exists for teachers, not for kids. The sad thing is that better test scores of themselves seem to be sufficient evidence that kids are performing better.

Call us the United States of Tautology.

Dear John,


(I find myself saying "indeed" a lot when I read you r blog and your comments.)

Dear lucychili,

Looks like an interesting link--once we finish up here, I may go poke around a bit more. You do not have the benefit of sitting here in the States listening to the pols bash our kids while extoling the virtues of [insert yet another country most adults here cannot find on a map].

Dear Mr. McEwen,

I think I'll bring your words up front--it's not often I'm accused of misrepresenting another's mission, and it's a win-win situation. You get exposure, I get to point out yet another example of someone profiting from a misplaced sense of mission.

Dear Gym,

Chasing "Plutonian Utopias" makes a lot of money for a lot of people. But you know this already.

Dear Jonthan,

I have read it--nashworld recommended it--and someday I might actually comment on it. It's a good book, but Louv's fear pokes through. I'm probably not being fair, and I plan to buy a copy to read through it again (this time with a pen in my hand--libraries frown upon my mighty pen!)


Your cogent and succinct comments left little for me to defend--wonderful as usual.

I hope we manage to throw something together someday.

Dear Jude,

I'm not sure what you mean by Bohemian. To be fair, there is a chance I have Gypsies in my background, black Irish and all, but I doubt that that's what you mean.

I am not a writer, nor an artist, nor a cosmopolite. I am a lousy musician (though an enthusiastic one). I do not go to museums. My drink of choice (besides homebrew) is Ballantine Ale.

I work 60-70 hours a week.

I clam, I fish, I occasionally grind wheat and make bread because it tastes good, and I brew.

I do not think getting stung by a wasp is part of initiation into the Boheme society, but must confess that I am ignorant in these matters.

What is your point? What do you mean by success?

If by Bohemian, however, you mean someone who finds the time to appreciate the Great Creation around us, well, you got me.

Joe Scott said...

It is admirable that you are all attacking Study Island with a child's best interests in mind while attacking the CEO of the company, however, it is important to consider the expectations set on a typical teacher's shoulders. I teach fifth grade in Pennsylvania, one of the most difficult states to teach in due to ridiculous standards and full-year state testing that takes place in March. Study Island isn't meant to turn our students into abandoned drones, monitored in one more way by "Big Brother," but rather should be seen as ONE of many available resources afforded teachers to create enthusiasm while learning state standards. My school subscribes to the program, and you know something? My students actually enjoy it! It's something different for them. Students are engaged in fun games while answering a few questions. This enthusiasm will pass and the school will find another similar program or method. We still do many other technology projects, but occasionally Study Island allows students a brief escape while still satisfying the needs of a teacher's lesson. People are so cynical these days and always trying to find fault with someone attempting to come to the aide of teachers while putting a little money in their pocket.
I would like to know from the original author of this post if these hours Dana is putting in are required by the school or if she is choosing to log them in. If she is not required, then shut off the computer and have her experience all the wonderful things you mentioned. If it is a requirement, I question the school district assigning such a task out of the school building as it strays away from the very mission Study Island sets out to accomplish.
In any case, I repeat my point. Study Island is a tool for teachers that appeals to the interests (video games) of students while appealing to a teacher's need to cover and review many state standards. It should never be required out of school, but it should say something if a student chooses to work with the program in their free time. As a parent, however, we should step in an make sure our children experience the world outside of school.

doyle said...

Dear Joe,

I am the original poster. I am also a teacher in an urban district in a state that, like yours, has tough NCLB requirements.

Please read what I wrote--it was about a young child who is stressed by a program designed to be manipulated by her teachers in order to make her comply.

I did not attack the CEO in this post (though his cavalier comments here did inspire a post where my words could be construed as less than warm and fuzzy).

The hours put in by Dana are required by her teacher. (It's OK to call me Doyle--that's what everyone else calls me.)

I was unable to find Study Island's mission statement--I didn't think that was necessary until the CEO accused me of misrepresenting the values and mission of Study Island. If you happen to know what they are, toss me a line. I'll be glad to share them.


"The original author of this post"
aka Doyle

John Spencer said...


"People are so cynical these days and always trying to find fault with someone attempting to come to the aide of teachers while putting a little money in their pocket."

Exactly! I will always try to find fault with anyone who aides teachers (not students) and in the process puts a little money in their pocket. I am skeptical of any program or company or organization that turns students into data in order to increase a market share.

I always will.

Julia said...

And imagine, for just a moment, that there is some benefit to this big brother style test prep -- what of the students who do not have computers with internet connections at home?

Joe Scott said...

I hope everyone understands that I was not attempting to attack anyone on this blog for their opinion, and that my interest in if Dana's use of the program was mandatory was genuine. I don't agree with any teacher or school district using a computer program like Study Island for homework. It goes against my theory about homework in general, so it's sad to here there is a school district that overly involved. If it is being used, it should be within limits - but I question if all students even have computers to use!

As far as John's comment, I can't lump all entrepreneurs into the same category. Starting a business is hard enough; selling it is even more difficult. My opinion about Study Island in general is that, if used correctly, it can be a useful tool. If the guy makes some money, that is the American dream and at least his product has purpose.

My apologies, Doyle, for not using your name directly if that offended you. I did not write your name down as I was typing and my computer erased what I wrote when I attempted to look for it. I must have misunderstood your post. After reading the comments others directed toward the CEO, I must have assumed your problem was as much to do with the program as the school itself. Hopefully the school district's stranglehold on the student's homework computer habits become a bit more sensitive to a child's need to get out and experience life.

doyle said...

Dear Julia,

The unnamed district in question requires students to go to the public library if they do not have internet access at home.

Dear Joe,

A few things. I'm not too sensitive about what folks call me--I am surrounded by 14 year olds with misfiring frontal lobes--but I do like to tease.

I still am unclear why Mr. McEwen said I misrepresented his product from my original post, but no matter. I do not, however, want to leave you with the impression that I think his program is hunky dory.

I do not begrudge his attempt to make money by manipulating children--the NCLB drives districts to use "tools" like Study Island. I don't like NCLB, and I don't like that people are making lots of money because of a badly designed law.

When Mr. McEwen spouts "doing well on high stakes assessments is a by-product of content mastery gained through Study Island, not a goal in and of itself," well, time to put on the muck boots.

FWIW, some of us have American dreams that differ a bit from those of Mr. McEwen.

Joe Scott said...

Oh I agree with you for many reasons absolutely. Most teachers do not agree with the standardized testing and consequences for not keeping up with national set proficiency levels. I don't agree with the usage of Study Island in your district, nor do I agree that using Study Island will make a student proficient, as Mr. McEwen suggests in his post. I use it only to reinforce concepts studied in class. In actuality, as I was thinking about today, many standards/strands tested on the state test are not included within Study Island. All I know is our district bought it, and I use it. It's not mandatory. It's done at the child's pace and it is kept stress free.

Charlie Roy said...

@ Doyle
Looks like you've sparked some fun with this one. I watch my children do mindless worksheets every night. I watch them cringe at the thought of homework. I watch them wine on Mondays that school begins again. Study Island might intrigue them with some bells and whistles. In the end I don't really give a shit what my children's test scores are. What I do care about is can they think critically, live humanely, and lead effectively. I doubt study island or programs like it are going to make that happen. I'm glad I work in a private system where we don't really care about test scores. We are then free to focus on developing the entire student.

I sat in awe last night at our art festival. I soaked in works that were truly inspiring. I watched our clothing students display their work in our fashion show and I soaked in a great student produced film and watched a great faculty produced one as well. I doubt any of the work that went into this night raised a test score once but I'll bet all I have that the work that went into this night helped make these young people better. I would bet my last dime they learned more about who they are built their confidence more than clicking multiple choice answers on a screen.

Anonymous said...

I know I'm a little late to find this... but has anyone tried IXL ( It's much more kid friendly than Studyisland, and the problems are actually dynamically generated, rather than drawn from a testbank. The students also win awards which motivate them, and it tells you exactly where your students are having troubles.

doyle said...

Dear anonymous,

I'll tell you what--you convince me you're not a shill for the product, and I'll leave this up.

Either email me, or post with some traceable name--I don't like anonymous product placements here.

Paul Doherty said...

I haven't used Study Island for a few years so perhaps it is more kid and teacher friendly than I remember. However, I agree that is a better product. The reports are awesome, especially for real-time intervention. We have been using it for almost a year.

I'm going to take a look at the updated study island this weekend but IXL would be hard to beat.

Liza Z. W. said...

I have study Island and am also looking at IXL--it looks better, but they only have math. I am a Montessori teacher at a public charter school, so during our teaching days the children are choosing all kinds of hands on work and then they can use study island for reinforcement in a more test-like setting. For example, yesterday my class cut up 3 stalks of celery, several pounds of carrots and other vegetables and made their own soups and dishes for a thanksgiving feast. They also did some of their best writing without me pushing them too much. Data has its place to keep track of students, but what I love as a teacher is connecting with each student in a way to keep them engaged and joyful in the learning process.
I also disagree with the person who said that the fashion show doesn't increase test scores. If you have a child who wants to come to school because it is interesting and appealing to them, they will learn better! In my years of teaching all kinds of learners, I always see great improvement in test scores because my students love to go to work in their classroom each day. Study Island can be a help at home (if the child wants or needs it) but it should not replace the wonderful real life learning opportunities that could and should take place at home.

Liza Z. W. said...

and also, I taught in Switzerland for 2 years and noticed a few differences that I like:
1. Teachers made triple what they do here in the states--there you are a true professional!

2. They are in no hurry to teach reading. (two years of kindergarten with no printed letters or number--only oral language and manipulatives) and yet they have one of the highest literacy rates and master several languages.

3. The teacher spends 3 years with the class and can take the time needed to help each child get to where they need to be. There is not near as much wasted time on assessments.

4. Not every child is placed on the college track. At sixth grade children take a test and they start sorting and selecting. I think it is a bit early, but the good thing is that everyone comes out of the system with skills that they can use for a successful career.

what I do not like so much:
the way they handle special needs is sometimes barbaric in my opinion. I saw ADHD children shipped off to a weekly boarding school! They wanted to put my Aspie son in a place where I would only see him on the weekends. So this is why not all countries are alike in how they ensure that every learner is successful.

Anonymous said...

ichI am a parent of an 8th grader, and I as well hate Study Island, my son as well. I was told by my son's teachers that the kids who were in the remedial classes would be doing it and not to worry that my son passed his FCAT scores. Now our school district is making him do it in his virtual school. I feel if this is the case then all the schools brick and mortar as well should too. It is sad after your kid spends six classes plus 2 hours in class time with teachers that they have to do it. it should be optional or for those whom need the extra help!