Eagle County schools see student academic growth trend in the right direction

Using data from locally administered assessments, schools in Eagle County are seeing the trend of academic growth in a positive direction post COVID-19.
Chris Dillmann / Vail Daily Archive

While the full picture of the effects of the pandemic on student learning will not be clear for many years to come, Eagle County schools are beginning to see some of these effects through the results of its administered assessments. locally.

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

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

During last Wednesday’s meeting, Rewold-Thuon presented the academic progress made at the mid-year checkpoint by the students. While some of the data was encouraging and showed progress being made compared to the same time last year, other areas highlighted areas 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” since the start of the school year. Since September, there has been an 8% increase in the number of students meeting 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 especially positive because the district implemented a new elementary literacy teaching resource this year.

“In the first year of implementing a new educational resource, you will typically see a delay or a gap in implementation,” she said. “A lot of times you’ll see students holding or backing off and so I think it’s positive that we’re seeing some momentum with the implementation of the new resource this year.”

In Spanish for those same grades, growth was “non-existent” last year for students, Rewold-Thuon said. And although the district showed minimal growth (2%) in this subject compared to last year, she added: “we still need time to catch up with this lack of Spanish instruction from COVID the year last.”

Istation math assessments for kindergarten through fifth graders showed some growth from last year in nearly all grades, especially in first and fifth grades. Overall, 9% more students are meeting their K-5 math benchmarks compared to last year’s mid-grade assessments.

Rewold-Thuon, in presenting the Northwest Evaluation Association’s math assessment for 2nd-5th graders, noted that second-grade math performance “was a huge concern post-COVID.”

“This year, second graders are starting to pick that up and catch up a bit; these would have been last year’s first graders and our last year’s second graders are now achieving that growth goal for year three,” she added.

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

“Our fourth year was disproportionately affected by staff changes and turnovers this year,” she said, adding “These students were in second year when we went remote and I don’t know. if it was a foundational year to put these connections together as in regards to mathematical concepts, but it looks like he is carrying them through.

Overall, for the elementary years tested, Rewold-Thuon said, “We’re showing growth, but we’re still working to reach the levels of achievement we need for math.”

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

STAR data shows that as a result of the remoteness of schools, the number of students achieving grade-level equivalency in reading and math has dropped in middle schools. However, according to the mid-year reports, the number of students meeting these equivalences has returned to the level or close to that of the 2019-2020 school year.

“We have a slow upward trend,” Rewold-Thuon said, referring to the number of high school students meeting the reading criterion based on STAR results. Similarly, in Grades 6-8 math, students show slight growth in the number of students achieving grade-level equivalency.

Implementation of interventions

These assessments are essential 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 achieve student achievement and equity goals.

One of the key district improvement strategies in this plan is the tiered support system, in which the district provides varying levels of support based on student needs and outcomes.

“A large percentage of our population is in need of targeted support right now, which has to do with COVID and many other factors,” Rewold-Thuon said.

“What we would like to see in terms of impact for our students is that we have a system that enables all of our students to achieve these grade level goals; so by matching interventions to areas where our students need extra help,” she added. “We also impact equity, so we don’t want a student’s race or other determination to be able to predict their results on standardized tests or other types of measures of achievement.”

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

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

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

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

CMAS screenings

The Northwest Evaluation Association and STAR assessments also provide projections of student performance on the state’s standardized test, Colorado Measures of Academic Success.

While CMAS tests were scaled back last year to allow more time for students to learn, they are expected to resume with normal administration this spring. In December, the Colorado Board of Education voted in favor of the normal administration of state assessments. While the state legislature has yet to vote on what administering those assessments will look like, Superintendent Philip Qualman said at the Jan. 19 school board meeting that he fully expects assessments are administered normally.

Based on these ratings, the percentage of students deemed competent—defined as those who receive “meets expectations” or “exceeds expectations” grades on CMAS—was projected as follows for the district:

  • Third year: 28% projected proficiency in mathematics and 28% in reading, according to assessments by the Northwest Evaluation Association
  • Fourth year: 16% projected skills in mathematics and 16% in reading, according to assessments by the Northwest Evaluation Association
  • Fifth year: 20% projected proficiency in math and 20% in reading, based on Northwest Evaluation Association assessments
  • Sixth year: 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
  • Eigth year: 29% projected proficiency in math and 27% in reading, based on STAR assessments

Northwestern assessment predictors for math and reading in grades 2-5 also show significant disparities between white and Hispanic students in the percentage expected to score effectively on the CMAS.

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

“We’ve heard this over and over, that our Hispanic group and our minority groups have been impacted the most by COVID,” Rewold-Thuon said.

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