Eagle County Schools receives ‘encouraging’ data on student learning during the pandemic
District seeks to identify areas of growth, gaps in learning and other trends.
It’s the question that hovered over a school year defined by COVID-19: Just how much would the academic success of students be impacted by the pandemic? With the introduction of virtual learning, social distancing and other pandemic-related mandates, nothing about this past academic year was predictable.
Now, Eagle County Schools is beginning to get back data from last year indicating that while there were some fluctuations based on subject, grade level and demographics, overall the district was able to maintain growth and learning across every group.
“To see some of this academic growth under that duress that students and staff operated under last year is very encouraging. We weren’t sure we were going to be able to be in person at all, we were able to do four days a week for most of our kids, two days a week for our high school kids,” Superintendent Philip Qualman said. “This makes me happy to be able to provide what we did; this is very encouraging.”
On Wednesday, Melisa Rewold-Thuon, Eagle County Schools’ assistant superintendent of support services, presented the district’s board of education with end-of-year data that identifies areas of growth, gaps in learning and other trends.
The district relies on a number of metrics to track student learning and to ensure students are on the right track. In addition to the state-required standardized tests like Colorado Measures of Academic Success and the SAT, the district administers tests at the beginning, middle and end of the school year. These tests include NEWA and STAR testing approaches and provide controlled and quick results.
The state has yet to send out this year’s CMAS test results, although the results are expected in the next couple weeks. However, because the state scaled back which subject CMAS tests were administered this year, the results are expected to be somewhat “irregular,” according to Qualman.
The district has, however, received student’s SAT scores. According to Rewold-Thuon, Hispanic students had “significant increases in the SAT” — an increase of 15 points on reading and writing and an increase of seven points for math. White students, however, saw a slight decrease in their overall SAT scores — a six-point decrease on reading and writing as well as math.
Overall, the district did see an average increase in SAT scores from 977 to 981, which is slightly below the state average of 1024. Which, Rewold-Thuon said, was “due to the increase of the scores in our Hispanic population.”
Based on subject matter
The other data, which was based off of the NEWA and STAR testing that the schools performed, indicated some growth, gaps and declines based on subject matter as well. This year, teachers “focused on the core to make up any deficits,” Rewold-Thuon said.
District wide, according to Rewold-Thuon, the two areas that remain areas of concern are phonemic awareness, phonics and fluency, as well as general awareness around mathematical concepts for younger students.
With phonemic awareness, phonics and fluency, the district is adopting in the upcoming year a new elementary curriculum that will train teachers on how to do interventions in this area. With this, Rewold-Thuon noted that she expects “we’ll see in increase in those areas.”
In the past few years, math was identified as a bit of a problem area for the district. However, this year the district implemented Istation, an e-learning program which provided systematic intervention for consistent skills-based check-ins and progress monitoring throughout the year. With this, the district saw great math growth in elementary and middle school.
However, while the district is close to meeting its reading goals, its not quite there.
“We focused on math, we just need to focus on everything to make sure that we maintain growth,” Rewold-Thuon said.
As part of its district goals for equality — which includes implementing more equitable grading practices — the district continues to “look at the demographic breakup of achievement,” she said.
Across subject matters, the district is still seeing slight gaps between its white and Hispanic students. However, according to Rewold-Thuon, these gaps are starting to close slightly, and a focus going forward will be to close this gap completely.
Implications for the future
With these results, the district is now planning for the future. According to Rewold-Thuon, the district is using this data to inform its unified improvement plan, which every school district is required to submit to the Colorado Department of Education. This plan is meant to help guide districts into future years and adequately allocate resources to meet their goals.
The district has yet to really dig into the results and identify what is behind some of the trends it is seeing. As school administrators return to the schools, staff will look to identify trends, correlations and identify and standardize best practices, according to Rewold-Thuon.
“That’s really part of the universal improvement process with all of the staff and also why we have that coordination between the school improvement plans and our overall improvement plan with the district so we can see the correlation and make those comparisons across the schools,” she said. “We try to find what the best practices are to be able to replicate them across all of our buildings.”
Going into the next school year, Qualman noted that the district is preparing for any number of challenges and situations, even as things return to normal.
“Nobody had ever gone through what we went through in the last 18 months and we’re not really sure what to expect when kids come back to school in August,” Qualman said. “We know we’re going to have challenges that we can’t anticipate and a lot of that is going to be around mental health.”
Another change that the district is implementing — as a number of parents at board meetings have expressed interest in the district’s curriculum — is to add all of the district’s curricular frameworks, or the documents that guide what is taught in the classroom, to its website.
“We want to be as transparent as we possibly can as an organization and a reflection of our community,” Qualman said. “Everybody needs to know what’s being taught in the classrooms and what resources teachers are using.”
As another suggestion, Lucila Tvarkunas, a member of the school board, noted that the district could also post resources and skills that students should have as they both exit and enter grade levels.
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.