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Special Education Students Improve State Test Scores with Study Island in Coal Township, PA

Special Education Students Improve State Test Scores with Study Island in Coal Township, PA
School Name and Location: 
Shamokin Area School District
The Challenge: 

The Shamokin Area School District community consists of the City of Shamokin and Coal Township, East Cameron Township, and Shamokin Township. Located at the southern end of the anthracite coal region in central Pennsylvania, the rural district includes a high school, middle school, elementary school, and elementary annex building. The district enrolls 2,450 students, and 15 percent of students receive special education services. Five years ago, Shamokin Area School District set out to find a solution to help improve the performance of students with disabilities.

“Our special education students were doing poorly on our state assessment," said Darlene Beishline, a special education math teacher for grades 7 and 8 and the K–12 Study Island facilitator for the district. "This, in turn, was keeping the school district from making AYP [Adequate Yearly Progress]. We looked into several different software programs and thought Study Island was the best. It had everything we needed for the state assessment at each grade level.”

How They Did it: 

Shamokin Area School District began using Study Island with special education students in 2006. During the 2009–10 school year, Study Island was implemented with all students in grades 3–11 in math and reading. Students work on Study Island in computer labs and on laptops that are wheeled into classrooms on portable carts.

Built directly from state standards in each subject area, Study Island helps K–12 students master grade-level content and prepare for state assessments in a fun, engaging manner.With real-time reporting on student achievement, teachers can easily differentiate instruction to address learning gaps and help students prepare for the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA).

Beishline uses Study Island in her classroom to customize instruction to students’ needs. Students can study in standard test format or interactive game mode or through the use of classroom response systems. By providing engaging, self-paced instruction and positive reinforcement, Study Island helps students take control of their learning and build their confidence, and it creates a culture of academic success.

“Not every student needs the same thing,” said Beishline. “With Study Island, I can target instruction to the skills each student needs. I can also do group activities and project Study Island onto an interactive whiteboard and use classroom response systems with students. Students love the games, and they enjoy competing against each other to see who gets the most answers right.”

Within Study Island, each session focuses on an academic standard or underlying topic and sets a clear goal for the learner to master the targeted skill or concept.When students master a topic, they earn a Blue Ribbon.

“I created a bulletin board in my classroom where each student has his or her own ‘island,’” said Beishline. “For each Blue Ribbon students earn in Study Island, they can post a printout of a surfer, hula girl, tiki torch, or other things like that on their island.”

About once a month, Beishline holds a drawing, creating an entry for each Blue Ribbon earned. Students whose names are drawn can choose a reward from a prize box. “It’s motivating to students, and they have a lot of fun with it,” she said.

Beishline uses the Study Island Teacher Toolkit to access state-specific lesson plans for her math classes. “The lesson plans and the [PowerPoint presentations] are excellent,” she said. “Another great help for students who struggle with reading is to enable the speech-to-text component of the program when working on math skills.”

Beishline also frequently uses the Study Island online teacher forums to collaborate and network with other educators. “I post ideas and questions and answer questions from other teachers,” she said. “I think I have 80-plus messages there!”


During the 2009–10 school year, the special education students in Beishline’s class made significant gains. All 8th grade students scored at the Proficient or Advanced levels on the PSSA in math. In addition, all but three students in 7th grade scored at or above the Proficient level.

“My special education students have made tremendous gains in math," said Beishline. "I’ve had several students who in 5th and 6th grade, scored at the Below Basic or Basic levels on the PSSA and then in 7th and 8th grade, they jumped to the Proficient or even the Advanced level."

Districtwide, the percentage of middle school special education students scoring at the Proficient level in math increased from 38.8 percent in 2009 to 62.5 percent in 2010. In 2010, the district also made AYP in all areas on the PSSA for the second year in a row.

"The main benefit of Study Island is that it helps my students achieve grade-level growth and gives them a sense of accomplishment,“ said Beishline. "Many special education students have struggled for so long that they develop a low opinion of themselves; they used to always say, ‘I can’t do this.’ Now, we can point to their success in Study Island, and they know they can do it.”

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