The Jefferson City School District has worked to monitor and address learning loss that occurred during the school closure last spring. Although the district has made quick progress, it may take years to fully make it up, especially in math, district officials say.
JC Schools students missed more than nine weeks of in-person instruction last spring and did not have the opportunity to go to summer school due to COVID-19.
Lorie Rost, assistant superintendent of elementary and secondary education, said making up for learning loss could take several years.
"We are not where we want to be in terms of student achievement," Rost said. "Due to the school closure last spring, it is vital this year to focus on growth of students."
Before the school year started, the district's curriculum team helped teachers determine which Missouri Learning Standards students missed last spring and embedded the missed standards into the curriculum. For example, some third-grade standards for fractions were embedded into the fourth-grade curriculum.
Teachers have monitored students' progress in the classroom and adjusted their instruction accordingly. They collaborate with each other and other staff members to find ways to address learning gaps through their instructional practices, Rost said.
"They have championed being in-seat and have worked through so much in their classroom setting to make it possible," she said. "Best of all, they have built strong relationships with students so they want to be at school to learn."
Normally, there is some learning setback from summer break, so teachers are used to determining and addressing learning gaps.
"This fall was really no different," Chief of Learning Shelby Scarbrough said. "It was just a few extra months of students not being in seat."
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State tests and the Annual Performance Report, which reports test data, were canceled due to the pandemic, but JC Schools has used assessments it uses every year — such as i-Ready for elementary and middle school students — to gauge where students are in their learning throughout the year.
i-Ready is a diagnostic that determines what grade level students are performing at in reading and math based on state and national standards. It allows teachers to adjust their instruction based on a student's skills.
JC Schools chose not to use MO LEAP tests, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's assessment for measuring learning loss, or MO LEAP Blocks, instructional resources created to support accelerated learning in the classroom.
"There were so many things that were different for students from all the COVID protocols that we had in place, we didn't want to add another layer of something new that might be overwhelming to students," Scarbrough said.
District middle schools had 1-2 percent fewer students score on grade level in reading to begin this school year compared to last school year, but 41-53 percent of students have improved their reading placement, according to i-Ready data from the district.
All elementary schools had lower math scores to begin this school year compared to last year.
At mid-year 2021, Moreau Heights and South elementary schools exceeded last year's mid-year reading data. Lawson, Thorpe Gordon, Belair, East, Pioneer Trail, Callaway and North elementary schools are within 1-4 percent of last year's mid-year reading results.
Each elementary school has seen an 8-18 percent decrease in students scoring two or more grade levels behind in reading.
Moreau Heights Elementary saw a 5 percent increase in mid-year average of students scoring proficient in math compared to mid-year last school year. East Elementary maintained its mid-year math results. North, South, Thorpe Gordon and West elementary schools are within 1-5 percent of last year's mid-year math results.
Most schools, grades and classes should expect to see at least 50 percent median progress at mid-year, according to the district. Each elementary school and middle school exceeded that percentage this year.
In the elementary schools, reading was 70-90 percent and math was 66-73 percent.
Thomas Jefferson Middle School's median progress at mid-year was 144 percent, and Lewis and Clark Middle School's was 82 percent.
Current data show there is a larger learning gap in math than in reading for elementary students.
Between 15-19 percent of elementary students have already achieved their reading "stretch goal," growth that will put a student on the path to proficiency in i-Ready. This is more than one year of progress in half a year.
In math, 6-13 percent of elementary students have met their stretch goal.
West Elementary Principal Heather Beaulieu said teachers did a great job keeping students reading during the closure, but math was more challenging.
"In math, there are specific skills that build on each other that if you didn't learn it, you need to go back and learn it," she said. "In reading, you won't forget a skill you learned when you learned how to read."
Rost said she's confident the district will see achievement gains in math and reading, but it will take time and effort.
"It will take additional time for professional development, collaboration, intentional planning and best practices to be put into play in every teachers' classroom for the greatest gains to occur," Rost said.
Administrators, teachers and students will continue to look at achievement data, set goals and frequently reflect on these goals with each other this semester to address learning loss, she said.
Goals for elementary administrators this semester are to do frequent math observations in classrooms and provide feedback to teachers, create a second-semester action plan, and revise school improvement plans where needed, Rost said.
Goals for teachers are to continue to analyze and monitor overall and individual student growth data and set goals and make instructional plans based on this data.
"It is so important that we continue to celebrate student performance and progress toward their goals and the hard work that staff is doing to address student learning loss," Rost said.
Since tests can't fully determine if it's learning loss, a skill deficit or just a bad test day, teachers have found other ways to figure out how students are performing, the skill deficits they have and how to adjust their instruction.
"Teachers have to do a lot of anecdotal information," Scarbrough said.
Even if assessment scores don't show a setback, teachers are observing learning gaps and filling the gaps into their everyday instruction — especially in math, West Elementary second-grade teacher Brittney Jackson said.
"This year, teachers and students have been working extra hard to kind of adjust from what we missed in quarter four last year — taking lots of assessments, putting it into our small group instruction and differentiating for what the students need and then pushing them harder to those that need it," Jackson said.
After teaching a math lesson to the whole class, Jackson often goes over the skills in small groups to differentiate the instruction based on students' needs and help them more closely with what they need extra practice on.
"I pull them to the small group instruction and kind of tweak that where they could understand it," she said.
West Elementary started the school year with 24 percent of students reading at grade level. Now, more than 45 percent of students read at grade level.
"I see teachers just maximizing every minute that they have with kids in person because they are kind of worried in the back of their mind about closing again — and I think that's been reflected in our data," Jackson said.
Scarbrough said JC Schools is fortunate to have most students fully in-seat this school year because it allows teachers to give them extra academic and social-emotional support. Providing that support in person is much easier than communicating virtually, she said.
"Sometimes, it may just be an interpretation of a skill or a direction that a teacher is giving or a student just may be not be engaged for whatever reason because there are some social-emotional aspects that truly impact learning," she said.
Teachers haven't just had to catch up students academically — they've had to catch them up in social-emotional areas. Elementary teachers have done this through lessons that teach social-emotional skills, morning meetings where they check in with students, and "mindfulness Mondays," where counselors teach exercises such as meditation.
By returning in-seat in the fall, JC Schools was able to begin addressing the learning loss and social-emotional needs quickly. For school districts that are still learning virtually, it will be much more difficult to address when they return to in-seat instruction, JC Schools Communications Director Ryan Burns said.
"That is even more challenging if you're trying to catch students up and embed what they missed last year from a virtual perspective while learning how to deliver education in a model that you haven't used before," Burns said.
Parents were also concerned about learning loss and social-emotional needs, so the district has emphasized parent engagement this school year, Scarbrough said.
The district has reached out to families to help them support students' academic and social-emotional needs and to help families with the extra stress the pandemic has caused that could contribute to learning loss.
"I think we've done a good job to help families understand where their students should be academically and engage families in how they can help support their students," Scarbrough said.