Pass rates for Carson City School District students in the 2020-21 school year have decreased compared to recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Administrators and teachers already know extra work is needed to help prevent further learning loss as a result of most students having remained in a full remote learning environment this past school year. Conversations still are ongoing about how to reach the average student and subpopulations in the most effective ways while the state recovers from the pandemic.
Last week, Ricky Medina, director of accountability and assessment, and Associate Superintendent Tasha Fuson presented to the Board of Trustees the most recent Measures of Academic Progress scores and grade distributions in the district by middle and high school levels.
Medina, in providing an overview of some of the data to the board, said it’s important to take a look at these pass rates and MAP data now to help “meet the kids where they are” to improve student academic performance, which has slowed in the past year with many students learning through a full remote or hybrid schedule.
In the first semester of the 2020-21 year, 87.25% of students in the district passed their classes, a drop from 94.21% from 2020’s first semester. Comparing year over year, 2021 so far is 89.35%, down from 2020’s 93.36%, 2019’s 94.79% and 2018’s 96.48%. Percentages also make a similar downward trend according to subpopulation by race for American Indian, Asian, Caucasian, Hispanic/Latino or students of two more races going back to 2018.
District staff members are asking what can be done to help average students at the bottom 25th percentile that have been learning via remote instruction. The district already brought back 200 students to give additional aid to those who were struggling at home.
Certain drops in data were no surprise, but the challenges for some students going full remote from traditional classroom instruction did surprise Medina given his own assumptions about how much time kids spend using technology, Medina told the Appeal on Monday.
“We think about students currently in school and they’ve been raised on cell phones or on computers or technology and they have access to technology and we think they’re going to be successful,” he said. “I didn’t expect our full remotes to struggle as much.”
At the high school level, the overall pass rate for full remote students was reported at 60.83%, the Tuesday/Thursday in-seat cohort was 90.02% and the Wednesday/Friday in-seat cohort was 87.65%. The middle schools reported their full remote students’ pass rate at 76.45%, their Tuesday/Thursday in-seat cohort at 93.06% and their Wednesday/Friday at 91.98%.
Medina said Monday it’s difficult to account for the minor differences in rates between the in-seat cohorts as to why the Tuesday/Thursday students generally seemed to be more successful than their Wednesday/Friday counterparts, particularly at the high school level, although Honors courses are offered on certain days as one example, he said.
Support for subpopulations
The pass rates by subpopulation also are being scrutinized. English language learners went from a pass rate of 85.55% in 2020 to 77.64% during the same time this year, and those in the Individualized Education Program went from 90.31% in 2020 to 84.3% this year.
Principals and teachers want to know what can be done to address these ELL and IEP learners in particular, Medina said.
In recent meetings, he said, teachers and staff members had mentioned there was a noticeable lack of progress among ELL students who are newer to the country or are the least proficient in English and are among those who need the most in-seat instruction right now. This subpopulation in particular is in critical need of in-class opportunities to reinforce its English verbal listening and speaking skills.
“Their main priority was how do we get kids back in a regular classroom so they have an opportunity to interact with their friends in English and get more practice when they’re at home?” he said.
If these students at home, their ability to speak in English typically would be much more limited around family or they’re prone to speaking more in their native language instead.
“The classroom is the best place for them,” he said. “Some of our special ed(ucation) population, they’re better served in classrooms with teachers.”
Ready to test
Additional analysis will gauge the work necessary to put students on the right track again toward graduation. Medina and Fuson said last week teachers and staff members are preparing now for strategies to raise the students’ performance that has suffered from the full remote experience. Some interventions this spring or during the summer might require more planning from administrators or teachers.
“There’s always going to be a little bit of growth in the MAP assessments,” Medina said. “Kids in that lower 25th percentile, they’re not growing as fast as they need to. That’s where our work is.”
Testing season now is around the corner after spring break ends this week, and a straight apples-to-apples comparison of the district’s MAP data isn’t possible between last year and this year since COVID-19 shut down the schools at this time and testing requirements had been canceled. MAP testing is handled by site and makeups are expected this year especially with most on a remote schedule.
The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, or the SBAC Summative Assessment, tests also are near. These are traditionally taken in the spring by third- to eighth-graders and measure skills in the English Language Arts and mathematics, totaling four hours for each component or seven hours in the same testing period. The computer adaptive portion increases in difficulty based on student responses. There also is a performance task involved.
“When we get those back, that will be the first true test of where all kids are at,” Medina said. “In the past, the MAP has been the standard, but allowing them to be done remotely, that’s going to create issues.”
Lessening learning loss
Ultimately, though, Medina said there are many factors impacting student performance and further analysis is needed to determine to answer a bevy of questions about decreasing learning loss, which challenges to tackle first or even how to help teachers to decide where they’re more comfortable teaching now – in a physical or digital classroom as some have become accustomed to, Medina said.
For now, however, whether full remote would be effective for all or most students next year is still to be seen, and the district’s newly announced Pioneer Academy is an option for families who feel their students could thrive through the online option, Medina said. And Fuson was clear that not all children have been unsuccessful in the remote learning environment to date.
Trustee Mike Walker said at the March 23 board meeting that some children are naturally independent learners and require either fewer or different types of resources, stating the data shows “the importance of the art of teaching.”
“There’s no program we’re going to purchase as a district that’s going to reach all the kids,” Walker said. “First, we build relationships, we identify the need of that child and we plan interventions. A computer program or a Zoom meeting on a Monday doesn’t substitute for that.”
Fuson said this past year affected families’ needs to have their older children work outside the home. Faculty members are noticing students work in convenience stores, she said, when they want to help return them to their classroom so they can study or graduate.
“I’m convinced that we have the resources and the staff at our high schools to do that and support them,” Fuson said.