The winter assessment data showed declines in the proportion of students demonstrating grade level proficiency in math and reading compared to last year. The district shared its first update on academic assessments since the intervention triad program was implemented this school year at the school board’s Feb. 22 committee of the whole meeting. Fall reading and math assessments had shown improvements for most students since the previous fall, and there was hope the district could capitalize on the momentum to see additional improvements this winter. But instead, Dr. Lisa Sayles-Adams called the data on academic progress “unacceptable.”

“I am someone who uses data to inform decisions, good or bad. Data can give us honest feedback about what we are doing or what we are not doing. Recognizing that what we will present to you this evening are data from academic screeners which are not meant to provide a complete picture. They do continue to sound the alarm that we need continued urgency on how we are educating our students,” Sayles-Adams told the board on Feb. 20.

The data showed that overall just 44% of second through eighth grade students were at or above grade level proficiency in reading, a decline of three percentage points since last winter. While proficiency dropped just one percentage point for white students, proficiency declined by six percentage points for Black students, the second largest racial/ethnic group in the district. Significant gaps in proficiency remain between racial and ethnic groups in the district. Proficiency is highest for white students, with 77% at or above grade level, and lowest for Hispanic students where just 16% of students were proficient.

This graph showing winter results of reading assessments for the most recent three years was shared with the school board at the Feb. 20 committee of the whole meeting. Students in the “low risk” and “exceeds” categories demonstrated proficiency at or above their grade level. The gray bars represent the results for this school year.

In math, proficiency dropped just one percentage point overall for second through eighth graders, with 39% of students demonstrating proficiency at or above grade level. Proficiency for white students increased by one percentage point to 71% proficient, but decreased by two percentage points for Black students. Black students have the lowest math proficiency of any racial or ethnic group in the district, with just 13% of students demonstrating proficiency at or above grade level.

This graph shows the results of winter math assessments for the most recent three school years. It was shared with the school board at its Feb. 20 committee of the whole meeting. Students in the “low risk” and “exceeds” categories demonstrated proficiency at or above their grade level. The gray bars represent the results for this school year.

Sarah Hunter, the district's executive director of strategic initiatives said over 90% of second through eighth grade students completed winter assessments in literacy and math. She called the data “representative” and that it tells the district “what we need to know to move forward.”

The district uses FastBridge assessments to assess students in literacy and math in kindergarten through eighth grade three times per year. The district does not have a standardized assessment system for high school students, although high school students receiving intervention take the eighth grade FastBridge assessments. Kindergarten and first grade students are assessed using a different format than second through eighth grade students, which is why their results are reported separately.

The assessments measure both proficiency and growth. Proficiency is whether a student demonstrates understanding of grade level concepts. Growth measures how much progress a student makes between assessments, and is only reported in winter and spring for students who have been assessed in both fall and winter, or winter and spring. Growth is independent of proficiency meaning a student can be above grade level but making below average growth, or have proficiency below grade level but make above average growth.

In order for assessments to show sustained improvement over time, most students assessed as below grade level proficiency would need to consistently make above average growth. The district does not report growth by proficiency level.

This year, the district has purchased a new software system called EduClimber to track academic interventions for students. Before purchasing EduClimber the district had no centralized method to count how many students were receiving academic interventions, what type of intervention students were receiving, or whether the interventions were leading to improved academic outcomes for students. Once data has been inputted, the district will be able to evaluate the impact of the new intervention triad positions on students’ academic outcomes.

Hunter said that school staff were still inputting data into EduClimber, so the district did not have a complete count of how many students are receiving intervention. Of the 17,600 students in kindergarten through eighth grade that completed winter reading assessments, Hunter said about 1,500 students have been entered into EduClimber as receiving literacy intervention. About 900 students of the 18,200 students in kindergarten through eighth grade who completed a math assessment this winter are shown as receiving math intervention in EduClimber. Hunter said she did not expect the total numbers to increase significantly when data entry is completed.

Even if there is no overlap between students receiving math and literacy intervention, fewer than 2,400 district students are receiving intervention. The newly implemented intervention triads are a team of three staff members: a licensed teacher and two associate educators, who ideally  serve 75 elementary students per triad and up to 100 secondary students per triad. The 133 triads that were budgeted for this year using $29 million of pandemic aid should have meant enough staff for at least 10,000 students to receive intervention.

The district has struggled to staff both the new intervention positions and the regular classroom teacher positions in some of its highest need schools. A quick search of the district’s job openings shows multiple intervention positions still remain unfilled in multiple schools.

Hunter said that the data input and analysis should be completed before the next committee of the whole meeting on March 26. She said that the district would be able to provide additional information about the impact of the intervention triads at that time.

At the Feb. 20 committee of the whole meeting, Aimee Fearing, senior academic officer, echoed Sayles-Adams and Hunter. “It is not the data I was hoping to see when we gave the winter screeners,” Fearing said. School principals and teachers had reported positive experiences with the intervention teams, and were optimistic before the winter assessments, Fearing added.

“The data does tell us something. We need to be honest and truthful. Look at it to move forward,” Fearing said.

Fearing did not have an explanation for why the assessments did not show improvements in students’ academic achievement. Fearing said she believes the district has had an issue with “core” instruction for years–the basic classroom instruction students should receive in math and literacy starting in elementary grades.

Fearing said she would have data about the progress implementing the elementary math curriculum, Bridges/Number Corner, at the March 26 committee of the whole meeting. But she noted that the small number of students receiving intervention is not sufficient to improve the aggregate average.

Fearing also explained that the district is in the process of adopting a new literacy curriculum for elementary grades after the current curriculum, Benchmark Advance, failed a curriculum audit by the district last year. The new curriculum won’t be selected until 2025 and won’t be implemented until 2026. Fearing said her department is assessing whether they could speed up that process, given the need for all students to have access to high-quality curriculum.

Fearing and Hunter told the board that there will be additional information presented at the next committee of the whole meeting on March 26 about the intervention triad program. That update will include information on the number of students who have received intervention, and an analysis of the impact of the intervention so far. Because the intervention triad program is using pandemic aid that expires in September, the district would need to find another source of funding if it continued the program next school year.