Eagle County Schools sees student academic growth trend in right direction | VailDaily.com

Eagle County Schools sees student academic growth trend in right direction

District presents its mid-year assessment data at a recent school board meeting

Using data from locally-administered assessments, Eagle County Schools sees academic growth trend in a positive direction following COVID-19.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily Archive

While the full picture of the pandemic’s effects on student learning may not be clear for many years to come, Eagle County Schools is starting to see some of these effects through the results of its locally administered assessments.

The local district uses several assessments to measure student’s academic process by administering assessments at the beginning, middle and end of year. The district uses three systems for measuring student growth: Istation for grades K-5 on reading, Northwest Evaluation Association for grades 2-5 on reading and math growth, and STAR Assessments for grades 6-10.

“We are seeing growth and I think that’s a really good thing,” said Melisa Rewold-Thuon, the district’s assistant superintendent of student support services, at the Feb. 16 Board of Education meeting. “We’re starting to see trends in the right direction.”

At last Wednesday’s meeting, Rewold-Thuon presented on the academic progress made at the midyear checkpoint by students. While some of the data was encouraging and showed progress made over the same time last year, other areas highlighted where the pandemic is still affecting student achievement.

In the Istation reading assessments for kindergarten through fifth grade, Rewold-Thuon reported “improvement in all areas” from the start of the school year. Since September, there has been an 8% growth in the number of students meeting the grade-level expectations for the subject. Compared to last year’s mid-year assessment, 10% more students are meeting these grade-level benchmarks.

Rewold-Thuon noted that this is particularly positive as the district implemented a new elementary literacy curricular resource this year.

“In the first year of implementation of a new curricular resource, you will generally see an implementation lag or gap in implementation,” she said. “A lot of times you will see students either maintain or go backwards and so I think that it’s positive that we’re seeing some forward momentum with the implementation of the new resource this year.”

In Spanish for these same grades, growth was “nonexistent” last year for students, Rewold-Thuon said. And while the district has shown some minimal growth (2%) in this subject from last year, she added: “it is still taking us some time to catch up with that COVID lack of instruction in Spanish last year.”

The Istation math assessments for students in kindergarten through fifth grade showed some growth compared to last year across almost all grades, most significantly in first and fifth grades. Overall, 9% more students are meeting their grade-level benchmarks in math in K-5 compared to the mid-year assessments last year.

Rewold-Thuon, in presenting the Northwest Evaluation Association math assessment for grades 2-5, noted that second grade performance in math “was a huge concern after COVID.”

“This year second graders are starting to recoup that and catch up a little bit; those would’ve been the first graders from last year and our second graders from last year are now hitting that growth goal for third grade,” she added.

However, fourth graders saw an unusual lack of growth in math based on both the Istation and Northwest Evaluation Association assessments. Rewold-Thuon hypothesized two possible reasons for this lack of growth.

“Our fourth grade has been disproportionately affected by staff changes and turnovers this year,” she said, adding “Those students were in second grade when we went remote and I’m not sure if that was a fundamental year to put those connections together as far as mathematical concepts, but it seems like it is carrying through with them.”

Overall, for the elementary grades tested, Rewold-Thuon said: “We’re showing growth, but we’re still working on getting to those achievement levels that we need to get to for math.”

For grades 6-8, based on STAR assessments, students have started to recover from the effects of remote learning in reading and math, Rewold-Thuon said.

The STAR data shows that following when schools went remote, the number of students meeting the grade level equivalency for reading and math dropped in middle schools. Now, according to the mid-year assessments, the number of students meeting these equivalencies is back at, or near, where they were at the start of the 2019-2020 school year.

“We are trending up slowly,” Rewold-Thuon said, referring to the number of middle school students meeting the benchmark for reading based on STAR results. Similarly in math for grades 6-8, students are showing slight growth in terms of the number of students meeting grade-level equivalency.

Implementing Interventions

These assessments are critical to the district’s Unified Improvement Plan, which is required by the state to have. The results provide benchmarks through which the district can direct resources and implement strategies and supports to meet goals around student achievement and equity.

One of the district’s major improvement strategies in this plan is Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, in which the district provides various layers of support based on student need and achievement.

“A large percentage of our population right now are needing targeted support, that has to do with COVID and numerous other factors,” Rewold-Thuon said.

“What we’d like to see as far as impact from our students is that we have a system that enables all of our students to meet those grade-level goals; so by matching interventions with the areas that our students need additional help,” she added. “We also have an equity impact, so we don’t want a student’s race or other determination to be able to predict their outcomes on standardized tests or other sorts of achievement measures.”

As such, the district uses this data to identify where additional supports are needed.

For example, Rewold-Thuon said that this year the district is trying a new reading intervention program, Read 180, in the middle and high schools. Moving forward, the district also has plans to provide teachers with additional support and training on any interventions and curricular resources. In addition to district-wide interventions and programs, each school also has its own plans on how to implement these multi-tiered systems of support and interventions.

While the data from these assessments helps provide a good baseline of where students are at to show where these interventions and systems are needed, there are certain inconsistencies that can make the data difficult to compare across the district. Moving forward in an attempt to correct this, the district is looking to narrow the number of assessments and define which assessment tools should be used for what.

For example, the district is planning to use STAR assessments across kindergarten through eighth grade, eliminating Northwest assessments at the elementary level, starting next year.

CMAS Projections

Both the Northwest Evaluation Association and STAR assessments also provide projections on how students will perform in the state standardized test, Colorado Measures of Academic Success.

While CMAS tests were reduced last year to provide more time for student learning, it is expected to resume with normal administration this spring. In December, the Colorado Board of Education voted to support the normal administration of state assessments. While the state legislature has yet to vote on what administration of these assessments will look like, Superintendent Philip Qualman said at the Jan. 19 school board meeting that he fully expects the assessments will be administered as normal.

Based on these assessments, the percentage of students deemed proficient — defined as those receiving “met expectations” or “exceeds expectations” marks on CMAS — were projected as follows for the district:

  • Third grade: 28% projected proficiency in math and 28% in reading, based on Northwest Evaluation Association assessments
  • Fourth grade: 16% projected proficiency in math and 16% in reading, based on Northwest Evaluation Association assessments
  • Fifth grade: 20% projected proficiency in math and 20% in reading, based on Northwest Evaluation Association assessments
  • Sixth grade: 33% projected proficiency in math and 26% in reading, based on STAR assessments
  • Seventh grade: 39% projected proficiency in math and 33% in reading, based on STAR assessments
  • Eighth grade: 29% projected proficiency in math and 27% in reading, based on STAR assessments

The Northwest assessment predictors for 2-5 grade math and reading also shows significant disparities between White and Hispanic students in terms of the percentage that are projected to score proficiently on CMAS.

The CMAS projection from the assessment shows that for reading, 10.4% of Hispanic students are projected to “meet expectations,” compared to 42.2% of white students. For math, 7.4% of Hispanic students are projected to “meet expectations,” compared to 31.3% of White students.

“We’ve heard this multiple times, that our Hispanic group and minority groups were most highly effected by COVID,” Rewold-Thuon said.

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