The million dollar question among educators across the country has been ‘How much did the pandemic impact student learning the last two years?’
When the 2021-22 school year began, Eastern Carver County Schools Superintendent Lisa Sayles-Adams set four priorities — passing a referendum; focusing on what the district does best; strategic planning; and learning acceleration.
At the March 21 School Board meeting, Assistant Superintendent Erin Rathke shared encouraging numbers regarding the last priority, showing growth from the start of the school year to now.
“We know that students have experienced unfinished learning through this pandemic. This isn’t going to be a one-year thing. This is what we’re going to be doing now,” she told the board. “How do we accelerate students in their progress? Achieving what they need to do, and managing what they have not had over the pandemic.”
Learning acceleration is keyed in on access to strong instruction addressing any gaps in prior learning.
“We will never catch up our students if we remedialize the situation. Staying on grade-level content was necessary to address the unfinished learning and making sure students got everything they needed,” Rathke said.
The district leadership team has visited nearly 100 classrooms in recent months, Rathke said. What they found was exactly what personalized learning is meant to be. Students interacting, small groups, using technology to work independently.
ECCS implemented a screening tool to monitor student’s progress in fall 2020. This school year is the second full year with elementary implementation of the tool FastBridge.
When looking at the district average for students at or above the benchmark in reading, from fall to winter during the 2021-22 school year, the number has increased from 49% to 58% with first-graders.
It went from 63% to 67% with second-graders, and 72% to 78% with third-graders.
For fourth- and fifth-graders, numbers ranged between 78% and 79%, with minimal change.
The positive numbers exist with math scores as well. First-graders saw at or above the benchmark numbers jump from 76% to 80%, while second grade moved from 74% to 77%; third grade (80%); fourth grade (79%) and fifth grade (77%).
“Eighty percent is a pretty nice mark,” Rathke said.
ACROSS THE BOARD
While FastBridge is only used at the elementary level, the district also tracks data for secondary levels.
For middle school, the measure is courses passed. Students at Chaska Middle School East passed courses at 97.2% in the 2020-21 school year, that number jumping to 99.3% this year.
Chaska Middle School East saw improvement from 95.5% to 98.2%, while Pioneer Ridge Middle School has the largest movement from 93.6% to 98.7%.
Rathke said building leaders receive a report every Monday that shows what students are failing. Conversations began with students, asking what they need, or how they can be supported. It is about keeping them “on track,” Rathke said.
At the high school level, through the first semester, 94.5% of Chanhassen High School seniors, and 93.6% of Chaska High School seniors are set to graduate. For 11th-graders, the numbers are 94.6% and 90.4%, respectively.
Building leaders regularly monitor grade and attendance data, and assign a staff member to coach and mentor students. At times, families are brought in as partners with teachers.
“Historically, we’re pretty on track. We know there is still work to do. We’re trending better than the national average. I am pleased with what we are seeing over the last handful of years,” Rathke said. “We have stayed focused throughout the pandemic. Even when we were virtual, they were still there, doing their look-ins, seeing and looking at what the instruction looked like.”
HOW FAR OFF?
While student learning has accelerated across the district, the question remains, are students still behind?
There is no comparable tool that was used to measure student progress before the pandemic, though the district does have FastBridge data from fall 2020 to winter 2022.
Current first-graders have increased the percentage that are at or above benchmark from 78.9% to 80.2% within math.
Current second-graders have increased the percentage that are at or above benchmark from 53.3% to 67.1% within reading.
Current third-graders have increased the percentage that are at or above benchmark from 62.6% to 78.2% in reading, and 74.9% to 79.8% in math.
Current fourth-graders have increased the percentage that are at or above benchmark from 73.3% to 77.6% in reading, and 75.5% to 78.8% in math.
Current fifth-graders have increased the percentage that are at or above benchmark from 66.3% to 77.4% with math.
Whatever was lost, the work of many, including students, seems to have reversed course, according to the district. Rathke believes a more-normal current school year, without as many interruptions, is a big reason for this.
“We have been very thankful that we’ve maintained in-person learning this entire school year,” she said.