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JC Schools face skills gap in math, reading in elementary, middle schools

by Layne Stracener | April 18, 2021 at 5:05 a.m. | Updated April 18, 2021 at 11:18 a.m.

Across the board, most elementary and middle school students in the Jefferson City School District are not performing at grade levels for math and reading.

And it's not a new problem.

The district has made progress, but the scores are not where district leaders want them to be -- and the COVID-19 pandemic has caused setbacks.

I-Ready scores

To determine if students are performing at grade level, district elementary and middle schools primarily use i-Ready, an online diagnostic given at the beginning, middle and end of the school year.

I-Ready determines what grade level students are performing at in reading and math based on state and national standards, and it allows teachers to adjust their instruction based on a student's skills.

Mid-year data is based on what students should know by the end of the school year. The numbers are expected to grow as students learn more throughout the year.

There is an across-the-board decline in JC Schools' mid-year performance in math and reading for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 years. Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education Lorie Rost attributes the decline to the learning loss that occurred during the school closure in spring 2020.

At mid-year this school year, an average of about 44 percent of elementary and middle school students are reading at grade level, and 29 percent are scoring at or above grade level in math, according to i-Ready results.

At mid-year last school year, about 46 percent were reading at or above grade level and 36 percent were scoring at or above grade level in math.

Across the board, there is a marked drop in performance between kindergarten and first grade in mid-year math and reading data from the 13 elementary schools because the learning standards for kindergarten are much lower than other grades, Rost said.

The district did not administer i-Ready assessments in spring 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and school closures.

By the end of the year in 2019, about 61 percent of elementary and middle school students were reading at grade level, and about 55 percent were scoring at or above grade level in math.

This is an increase from the 2016-17 school year, the first year the district began using i-Ready, when about 53 percent were reading at grade level and 51 percent scored in math at or above grade level.

"We're absolutely moving in the right direction, and that's what excites us," Rost said. "You can see it with the amount of support we have provided from literacy in our reading that we're starting to see gains, and we're excited to keep that going to now bring math along with it."

It will take time to see significant progress, said Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Gary Verslues.

"People want to see everybody on grade level tomorrow, and we do, too," he said. "The reality is it takes time."

Seven of the schools hover around 50 percent of their students performing at or above grade level in math or reading.

"Our goals are much higher than that," Rost said.

Four of the 13 elementary and middle schools lead the pack consistently with about 70 percent of their students performing at or above grade level in math and reading, according to i-Ready data.

"Are we satisfied with that? No, absolutely not," Rost said. "Our goal is always to be increasing so that we have more schools achieving at higher rates."

The higher-performing schools typically have lower transiency rates than the lower- performing schools because it's hard on children when they move schools and miss instruction, Rost said. The schools with the highest transiency rates are East, Callaway, South and Thorpe Gordon, which tend to have the lowest scores.

"It's because of missing chunks of information," Rost said. "We have to get down to what they need individually, because when they come to us they are ours, and we want to do whatever we can to provide the best instructional model, practice, support for those kids to get them where they need to be."

MAP test scores

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education expects students to score at least at the basic level on the Missouri Assessment Program, which means they "demonstrate a partial or uneven command of the skills and processes identified in the Missouri Learning Standards," according to DESE. The Missouri Learning Standards outline the knowledge and skills students should have in each grade and course by the end of each school year.

Students scoring "proficient" or "advanced" demonstrate the skills identified in the learning standards consistently and skillfully.

State assessments were canceled in spring 2020 due to the pandemic, and fall 2020 MAP data is not available yet. Grades K-2 do not take state assessments.

The average percentage of JC Schools students who scored basic or above in English language arts and math during the 2018-19 school year was exactly the same as statewide averages.

An average of about 84 percent scored basic or above in English language arts, and an average of about 74 percent scored basic or above in math, according to MAP results.

The percentage of JC Schools students scoring proficient or advanced in math was the same as statewide results, but the English language arts scores were lower.

An average of about 41 percent of JC Schools students in grades 3-5 scored proficient or advanced on the English language arts portion of the MAP test in the 2018-19 school year, and about 44 percent scored proficient or advanced in math.

Statewide, an average of about 48 percent of students in grades 3-5 scored proficient or advanced on the English language arts portion, and about 44 percent scored proficient or advanced in math.

I-Ready data shows an average of about 57 percent of JC Schools students in grades 3-5 reading at or above grade level at the end of 2019.

I-Ready and MAP tests have different scoring scales and content. I-Ready determines grade-level proficiency based on state and national standards, while MAP testing is based on only state standards. MAP tests use "below basic," "basic," "proficient" and "advanced" while i-Ready uses "below grade level," "at grade level" or "above grade level."

Goals

The ultimate goal for the district is for 100 percent of students to be scoring at grade levels.

In their school improvement plans each year, every JC Schools building sets an end-of-year goal for how many students should be performing at or above grade level in reading and math. Schools complete their improvement plans each spring, and the plans outline the goals for the following school year. Neither JC Schools nor DESE have mid-year academic performance goals.

Lewis and Clark Middle School's goal is to have 20.16 percent scoring in math at grade level and 35.75 percent reading at grade level by the end of this school year.

Thomas Jefferson Middle School's goal is to have 56.46 percent reading at grade level and 51.34 percent scoring in math at grade level.

The average reading goal for the elementary schools this year is to have about 72 percent of students reading at or above grade level by the end of this school year. South Elementary School set the lowest reading goal at 60 percent, and Clarence Lawson Elementary School set the highest reading goal at 83 percent.

The average math goal for the elementary schools is about 63 percent. East Elementary School set the lowest math goal at 49 percent, and Cedar Hill Elementary School set the highest math goal at 80 percent.

Last school year, the average elementary reading goal was to have about 73 percent on or above grade level in reading. Belair had the highest goal at 80 percent, and East and South had the lowest goals at 65 percent.

The math goals were different last school year. Some schools set goals based on i-Ready scores while others set them based on MAP test scores.

For example, Belair, North, Pioneer Trail and West hoped to have 75 percent of students score on or above grade level in math on the i-Ready assessment at the end of the year, and Callaway Hills, Cedar Hill and Clarence Lawson hoped to have a 3 percent increase in students scoring proficient or advanced on the MAP math assessment.

The state expects districts to make at least 1 percent progress each year toward all students scoring "proficient" or "advanced," according to DESE Chief Communications Officer Mallory McGowin.

It's not known if the schools met these goals since assessments were canceled in spring 2020. The 2019-20 school year was the first year each building began setting these goals.

The overall elementary reading goal is for the percentage of students reading at or above grade level to be at 65 percent on the end-of-year i-Ready assessment this school year. The math goal is for the percent of students scoring at or above grade level in math to increase to 60 percent, Rost said.

Rost set this goal in spring 2020 based on where students were in their performance levels at the end of the year in 2019. There is no data from 2020 due to the school closures.

Rost said she believes the district will meet the reading goal, but the math goal will be a challenge. The spring 2020 school closure caused learning gaps due to students not being in the classroom, so the scores from the beginning and middle of the year aren't where the district wants them to be, Rost said.

Growth

Although the district's average i-Ready scores are fairly low, the growth this year has been high as the district works to catch students up.

After students complete their first i-Ready diagnostic, i-Ready generates growth measures for every student that tell teachers how much a student has progressed and helps them determine if a student is on track to meet growth goals.

Typical growth is "the average annual growth of students at each grade and placement level." It "allows you to see how a student is growing compared to average student growth at the same grade and placement level," according to i-Ready.

Typical growth measures are provided for each student based on their placement on their first diagnostic assessment of the year.

Most schools, grades and classes should expect to see at least 50 percent progress toward typical growth at mid-year and 100 percent at the end of the year, according to i-Ready.

All 11 elementary buildings exceeded 50 percent progress toward typical growth in math and reading at mid-year. The elementary division's average mid-year percentage toward typical growth is 80 percent. It is higher in reading than math.

Thomas Jefferson Middle School had 144 percent progress toward typical growth in reading at mid-year, and Lewis and Clark Middle School had 82 percent.

Thomas Jefferson Middle School had 80 percent progress toward typical growth in math at mid-year, and Lewis and Clark had 70 percent progress toward typical growth at mid-year. This does not include eighth grade Alegebra 1 or advanced students, as they did not take the January i-Ready test.

Efforts to improve scores

JC Schools' goals are to increase student achievement; narrow the achievement gap; achieve college, career and life readiness; and improve staff professional growth.

The district is creating a strategic plan that will outline how it plans to achieve these goals, and each school improvement plan will align with the overall strategic plan. Superintendent Larry Linthacum said he will present the strategic plan at the May Board of Education meeting.

JC Schools is trying to close the learning gap that has occurred due to spring 2020 school closures by embedding the most important skills students missed into grade-level standards - which is a tough balance. Over the summer, the curriculum team identified priority learning standards that were missed and embedded them into the curriculum.

"It's a challenge, and we hope that with each year with the things that we have in place, there's less and less of a skill gap when they go to the next grade," Verslues said.

Other solutions to closing the learning gap are through staff professional development, data-teams, collaboration, assessments and focusing on individual students, Verslues said. It's important for teachers to let students know where their scores are and set individual goals with them.

There is a larger learning gap in math than reading. Closing the skill gap is more difficult in math because the skill sets build on each other more, and parents tend to teach reading more than math at home, Verslues said.

During the 2018-19 school year, the district began a new literacy model that included new K-5 English language arts curriculum, resources, training and a more detailed framework for reading instruction and instructional planning. Prior to this, the resources and curriculum were not consistent among classes.

The district also hired an elementary literacy trainer and a secondary literacy trainer to work with teachers and provide instructional models.

Last year, the district started the first year of a three-year math plan but didn't get to finish the first year. The first part of the plan is tied to problem- solving and fluency to ensure students can read and comprehend math problems. The second part focuses on differentiation through collaboration.

"Math is behind as far as implementing a plan like we did with literacy," Verslues said.

Rost said she thinks scores will improve by the end of the school year, but the district needs to have realistic goals.

"We have to be realistic that they missed some very foundational, key pieces of instruction fourth quarter that they're going to have to try to make up this year," Rost said.

Print Headline: JC Schools face skills gap in math, reading in elementary, middle schools

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