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New report shows many GFPS students are falling behind during pandemic

New report shows many GFPS students are falling behind during pandemic
Posted at 6:01 PM, Feb 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-09 20:10:48-05

GREAT FALLS — Monday night’s Great Falls Public Schools Board of Trustees meeting ended with district officials presenting the findings of a new Student Achievement Data Report. The report, presented by several district officials and employees, including Assistant Superintendents Ruth Uecker and Heather Hoyer, outlined the impacts that remote learning and COVID-19 as a whole have had on the district’s students through a little over a semester.



Trustee Kim Skornogoski described the findings as a “deep scar from missing school,” while Board Vice-Chair Jeff Gray expressed his concern about the long-term effects that this abnormal school year could have on GFPS students.

The first data point presented by officials was MAP Comparisons for Kindergarten through 6th Grade. MAP Assessment Data is based off of a computer adaptive test on math subjects from secondary math through geometry. Question difficulty was based on the individual test-takers performance, and a total of 4,893 K-6 students were tested. 44% of all eligible remote learners participated in the assessment as well.

The findings of this assessment sorted students into four categories: Intensive, Strategic, Benchmark, and Advanced. Essentially, those classifications are a mark of where these students are in each respective subject on a scale of 1-4, with 3 (Benchmark) being the median standard that the district is shooting for. The findings presented on Monday night showed the following:

  • 40% of Kindergartners fell into the “Intensive” category for Reading in the Fall, while 30% did so in the Winter, and 21% in Winter REMOTE
  • 21% of Kindergartners fell into the “Intensive” category for Math in the Fall, while 14% did so in the Winter
  • 36% of First-Graders fell into the “Intensive” category for Reading in the Fall, while 34% did so in the Winter and 39% in Winter REMOTE
  • 18% of First-Graders fell into the “Intensive” category for Math in the Fall, 21% in the Winter, and 27% in Winter REMOTE

The next dataset shows average RIT growth from Winter 2019 to Winter 2020. RIT is a MAP unit used to measure student achievement and growth over a period of time. Many of the grade levels included in this part of the presented data fell below the “NORM” RIT growth in Math and Reading Winter to Winter Average RIT growth. However, Reading and Math Winter Average RIT Growth showed slightly more promise, though multiple grade levels still fell below the “NORM."

CLICK HERE TO READ THE REPORT (PDF)

Uecker noted that the goal average daily attendance (ADA) rate for each school in the district is 90%. While some schools in the district did have a higher remote attendance rate than their in-person rate, including Chief Joseph Elementary School, Lincoln Elementary School, and Meadowlark Elementary School, many schools did not. The overall average daily attendance rate across the district’s elementary schools was also lower than the rate for in-person classes for data gathered on 1/6/21 and 1/6/20. The overall ADA for remote students at the district’s elementary schools came out to 89.69%, just below that 90% benchmark.

Secondary school attendance numbers followed a similar pattern. Some schools, like East Middle School and North Middle School showed a higher ADA among remote learners than face-to-face learners, and even higher than the overall percentage from January 2020. But CMR, Great Falls High School, and Paris Gibson Education Center all had lower attendance rates among remote learners than they did among face-to-face students. Total average attendance was also down across the board. In January 2020, the ADA among secondary school learners in the district was 89.96%. In January 2021, it was 87.49% for Face-to-Face learners and 80.77% for remote learners.

The district also surveyed its students and parents to find out what is and isn’t working for them in this abnormal school semester. 57.1% of survey participants said that, on a scale of 1-5, they found the ease of which the tools provided during remote learning (Edgenuity, IXL) were a 5, meaning very easy. The same survey also asked parents to rank on the same scale how much they agreed with the statement: “I feel that my child is making academic progress.” 26.7% marked 5, 43.8% marked 4, and 26.7% marked 3. A total of 105 people participated in this survey.

A survey also asked for feedback about what specifically is and isn’t working in remote learning. Some of the results are displayed below:

  • What is working:
    • Hard work of all the teachers
    • Events that allow students to see their teachers like reverse parades
    • Tutorial videos
  • What isn’t working:
    • Zoom scheduling conflicts
    • Landing page navigation
    • Overall concern about growth and progress
    • Large influx of emails

Later in the presentation, more MAP data popped up. This time, showing the Winter Average RIT of Remote and Face-to-Face learners in grades 7-10 compared to the “Winter Norm.” In Reading, all learners showed more growth than the norm, regardless of whether they were remote or Face-to-Face students. In Math, the findings were similar. The concern from board members came when those statistics were compared to show a Winter to Winter Average.

In Reading, Remote learners in grades 7-10 showed a lower than average RIT at every level, with an especially drastic decline in 9th grade students, where the average actually showed a regression of reading skills. The same statistics for Math were even worse. None of the remote learning groups in any grade had an average growth near the Winter Norm, and 9th and 10th grade averages showed a regression. Even Face-to-Face learners fell short of the norm, especially in 10th grade.

Next up is a predictor of how 7th through 10th grade students will do on the ACT and the SBAC based on recent performance.

The ACT numbers were particularly concerning to board members. According to the report, over 60% of all students in 9th and 10th grade in the district, regardless of whether they are doing remote or face-to-face learning, are currently not on track to score at least a 22 based on their projected performance on math portion of the test. For reference, the ACT test covers four academic skill areas: English, math, reading, and scientific reasoning. It also includes an optional writing test. Looking back at the GFPS data, less than 20% of 9th grade remote students are on track to score a 24 or higher based on Math performance, while just over 20% of 9th grade Face-to-Face students are on track for a 24 or higher. The numbers for English predictors are slightly more optimistic. No group, remote or Face-to-Face have higher than 60% of their population not on track to score a 22 or higher. That being said, the percentage of students currently not on track to score a 22 or higher based on their performance on the English portion of the ACT is higher than the percentage of all students on track for either a 22+ or a 24+.

Credit attainment was also a particularly frustrating portion of the report for board members. The data in this part show the percentage of students that are currently credit deficient. Credit deficient means that a student, at any point in their high school career, is not on track to obtain the number of credit required to graduate. In the Great Falls Public Schools district, that number of credits required to graduate is 23. It should be noted that just because someone falls behind the curve and is labeled as “credit deficient”, it does not mean that they cannot graduate on time. District officials are already working on putting more programs in place to help students who have fallen behind during COVID-19, including credit recovery programs, Extended School Year (ESY) programs, and other aides. That being said, Assistant Superintendent Heather Hoyer noted that the current statistics are not great.

“We are very, very concerned about our freshmen,” Hoyer said. “Where 20% of all students are credit deficient at the end of their first semester.”

This portion of the statistics splits the data into three categories: % of Remote Learning students who are currently credit deficient, % of Face-to-Face students who are currently credit deficient, and % of all high school students who are currently credit deficient.

The highlights of these datasets are as follows (keep in mind that these numbers refer only to high school students, and the class year listed is the year that they are expected to graduate from high school and leave the Great Falls Public Schools system):

  • 50% of all remote learning students in the Class of 2024 are currently credit deficient
  • 37% of all remote learning students in the Class of 2023 are currently credit deficient, up from Fall 19-20 (14%) and Spring 19-20 (17%), when remote learning was not yet an everyday member of our vocabulary
  • 21% of all remote learning students in the Class of 2022 are currently credit deficient, up from Fall 19-20 (1%) and Spring 19-20 (8%)
  • 4% of all remote learning students in the Class of 2021 are currently credit deficient, up from Fall 19-20 (1%) and Spring 19-20 (1%)
  • 15% of all Face-to-Face students in the Class of 2024 are currently credit deficient
  • 11% of all Face-to-Face students in the Class of 2023 are currently credit deficient, up from Fall 19-20 (7%) and Spring 19-20 (8%)
  • 11% of all Face-to-Face students in the Class of 2022 are currently credit deficient, up from Fall 19-20 (3%) and Spring 19-20 (5%)
  • 11% of all Face-to-Face students in the Class of 2023 are currently credit deficient, up from Fall 19-20 (5%) and Spring 19-20 (7%)
  • 21% of ALL students in the class of 2024 are currently credit deficient
  • 16% of all students in the class of 2023 are currently credit deficient, up from Fall 19-20 (9%) and Spring 19-20 (10%)
  • 13% of all students in the class of 2022 are currently credit deficient, up from Fall 19-20 (2%) and Spring 19-20 (6%)
  • 9% of all students in the class of 2021 are currently credit deficient, up from Fall 19-20 (4%) and Spring 19-20 (6%)

In a survey of parents and students currently utilizing remote learning in the district, survey respondents were asked to include “other comments” regarding how the district could go about improving the remote learning process. Some of the responses included not penalizing students for not attending a Zoom class, more flexibility in scheduling, and stricter due dates on assignments.

Some of the notable complaints included wanting an easier way to access assignments and monitor grades, and too high of expectations for remote learners. Some things that respondents said are working well included the ability to work at their own pace, Zoom seminars, and daily office hours offered by teachers. 51% of middle school parents and students and 43% of high school parents and students (of the people that responded to this survey) said that they would like to see more lessons on time management and organization. 59% of middle school parent respondents and 50% of high school parent respondents indicated that they would like help motivating their children during remote learning. 38% of middle school respondents and 38% of high school respondents said they would like more opportunities for feedback.

The data presentation ended with comments from Lance Boyd, the district’s Director of Student Services. He first noted that most of the district’s IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) students were in fully in-person learning. Almost 500 of the 554 elementary school students, about 150 of the district’s 187 middle school students, and about 300 of the district’s 364 high school students are currently taking Face-to-Face classes. Despite that, Boyd noted that 1 out of every 3 Special Ed students that are taking fully remote classes reported their reasoning for not returning to school is based around COVID-19.

“A majority of our kids that are left in fully remote or hybrid learning are anxious,” Boyd explained. “They’re anxious about the virus, they’re anxious about ‘I haven’t seen my friends all the time’, they’re anxious about ‘what does my regular education classroom look like’, but then they’re also anxious about not having peer support.

Finally, as previously mentioned, one of the programs that the district employs to combat credit deficiency and help students who have fallen behind are the Extended School Year (ESY) and Summer School programs. The district keeps track of how many students qualify for those programs each year and how many actually attend. Boyd says he expects the number of students who qualify for ESY this year to increase by 30% from last year.