Reaching Higher Levels of Growth in Reading and Math with eSpark

Young girl sitting at a table using a laptop

Allowing teachers to access resources that are tailored to an individualized learning approach is crucial to student achievement. In this study, it is proven that using eSpark to personalize learning in the classroom leads to higher levels of student growth in both Reading and Math, especially when paired with additional instructional strategies focused on the individualization of learning for each student.


As more and more schools adopt personalized learning technology, researchers are looking to better understand the effect these tools have on student learning. Forbes has asserted that “students steeped in personalized learning are agile, digitally fluent and in command of their own learning — the very skills that are proving essential to succeed today.” But does personalized learning technology have a clear impact on student growth?

Elizabeth Forward School District, located just outside Pittsburgh, has been a champion of innovation and personalized learning for years. A member of Digital Promise’s League of Innovative Schools, Elizabeth Forward was recently awarded 2021 Digital Ecosystem of the Year in recognition of their use of personalized learning tools, including eSpark, to fully equip their educators and successfully deliver modern, digital learning experiences to their students.

Dr. Heather Hibner, an Assistant Principal at Elizabeth Forward, wanted to better understand how individualized learning technologies, like eSpark, can impact student achievement. Her research was guided by the following question: Does student growth on the NWEA MAP assessment significantly differ between classrooms implementing eSpark versus classrooms not implementing eSpark?

Methodology and data collection

To answer her research question, Dr. Hibner performed a purely quantitative study. The samples for this study were drawn from an initial population that included all southwestern Pennsylvania public elementary schools. Two samples were then created from this population: one sample of six school districts that implement the NWEA MAP Assessment to track and assess student growth, and a smaller sub-sample of schools who use NWEA MAP and also use eSpark as an individualized learning technology.

NWEA MAP classroom assessment scores were collected from both an initial and second testing administration for all classrooms in the sample set. In total, data was obtained from 347 classrooms from 17 school buildings within 6 school districts. This data was collected from the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years for both sample sets of schools.

Additionally, Dr. Hibner administered a survey to the classroom teachers who utilized eSpark, and asked them to self-report the instructional strategies they used in conjunction with eSpark as an individualized learning tool. The survey results were assessed for commonalities in classrooms that demonstrated high growth versus classrooms that demonstrated lower growth.

Overall mean points of growth on NWEA MAP RIT scores chart

The results of the study showed an increase in both the percentage of growth scores and growth in overall points among classrooms that used eSpark, compared to those that did not.

Results and significance

Dr. Hibner’s comprehensive research concluded that student growth is statistically significantly higher when eSpark is used in the classroom. Data was collected on both Math and Reading RIT scores. In Math, students who used eSpark in the classroom almost doubled their growth compared to those who did not. In Reading, students who used eSpark in class showed a 4.2% higher growth percentage than students who did not. Dr. Hibner also conducted a Mann-Whitney U test to determine the percentage of growth scores for schools who use eSpark was statistically significantly higher than schools who do not use eSpark in the classroom.

Furthermore, the classrooms that saw the largest increase in student growth were those in which the teacher reported more frequent use of instructional strategies that focus on the individualization of learning for each student. These strategies include designing and implementing interventions for individual students based on data, differentiating individual lesson plans, and designing station teaching with a classroom aide assisting. Pairing these instructional strategies with eSpark led to the highest rates of overall growth and percentage of growth in Reading and Math RIT scores.

Mean points of growth on NWEA MAP math RIT scores chart

Classrooms that used eSpark saw higher levels of growth in both Math and Reading compared to classrooms that did not use eSpark.

Mean points of growth on NWEA MAP reading RIT scores chart

Download the one-pager showing Elizabeth Forward’s improved student outcomes below. 

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