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Our Latest Rock Star: Tempe Academy of International Studies

Our Latest Rock Star: Tempe Academy of International Studies

Tempe Academy of International Studies in Tempe, Arizona has gone from a plan on paper to one of the best middle schools in the state in the span of only two years. District leadership established the school in the 2013-14 school year in an effort to challenge some of the brightest middle school minds in the district through the rigorous and fast-paced International Baccalaureate program and a commitment to blended learning powered by Study Island. Because of this combination, Tempe Academy quickly became the highest performing middle school in the district, with 97 percent of students meeting expectations in reading and 90 percent in math.                                                                              

The Academy’s principal, Marianne McMurrin, and 6th grade math teacher Sara Coba share some of their insights on their exceptional progress below. 

How does Study Island fit with the International Baccalaureate curriculum?

Ms. McMurrin: Our three-dimensional International Baccalaureate curriculum focuses on concepts, principles, and generalizations. We must also teach the grade level content standards within our IB Unit Plans. I was looking for a program that would help support student learning of the grade level content standards, giving them tremendous opportunities to practice in a simple, fun, and rewarding web-based environment.  I wanted my teachers to have available to them a program that they could align to their weekly lesson plans that would measure student understanding of the content standards. Study Island is a fantastic learning resource for our students and it is a vital component of our math and ELA curriculum. Study Island is an instructional assignment, and each student is expected to complete the entire program prior to state testing.

Ms. Coba: I found that Study Island is a great way for students to practice their fluency skills. This opens up my class time to explore the concepts behind the algorithm.

Formative assessment is critical in a fast-paced curriculum like IB. How does Study Island help in that aspect?

Ms. McMurrin: Study Island provides the ability to create original assessments to benchmark student learning on any topic. Having the ability to upload our student NWEA™ MAP© (Measures of Academic Progress) scores to Study Island is awesome, as is the ability of Study Island to differentiate instruction based on their performance both in the system and on the MAP tests.

Ms. Coba: Since IB is inquiry-based and driven by concepts, Study Island can help test their skills of being able to calculate correctly and efficiently. Then, in whole group using the data generated by the system, we can analyze the process.

Do you have any suggestions for principals just starting their Study Island journey?

Ms. McMurrin: The principal must “live and breathe” Study Island; they must fully support its use and implementation. Principals must also communicate the plan to all stakeholders and hold special Study Island parent meetings to explain the benefits of on-going student usage of the program. Next, start planning motivational incentives for the students. Incentives I have used over the last 13 years include, pizza parties, ice cream celebrations, luncheons at the Olive Garden, field trips, and a “Price is Right” game show. The key is to find an incentive that motivates all students to complete the program.

For more on how Tempe Academy of International Studies laid the groundwork for continued success with Study Island, check out the whole success story.

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Scott Sterling

Scott Sterling is a former English teacher who worked in Title I middle and high schools in St. Petersburg, Florida who is now a freelance writer who focuses on education. He is also a stay-at-home dad to his 4-year-old daughter Lily, who will soon be starting her own educational journey.