Charting the course for proficiency recovery

Payette Primary School principal Kipp McKenzie, right, addresses the Payette School District Board of Trustees during its Oct. 11 meeting, as Superintendent Robin Gilbert listens. Payette principals are working to respond to a decline in test scores at their schools due to time lost in the wake of COVID-19 shutdowns.

PAYETTE — When COVID-19 forced schools to close in March, kids lost not only a means of interacting with friends but a lot of what they learned according to local teachers. At the Payette School District Board of Trustees regular meeting on Oct. 12, Superintendent Robin Gilbert and the principals of Payette schools reviewed the latest student learning data from each campus according to fall assessments conducted in September.

The results show a significant decline in math and reading proficiency due to COVID-19 closures, each observed. Following is a sample of each site’s reports.

At Payette Primary, principal Kipp McKenzie noted that five months took their toll on his students: In Istation’s Indicator of Progress (ISIP) early reading assessments, each grade level K-3 had at least 23% of students with just level 1 reading proficiency in the 2019-20 school year. For 2020-21, the number jumped to 27%, with 43% of 1st graders in that boat.

In math assessments, similar declines were noted: In 2019-20, 9% of students placed as ‘at risk for Tier 3 (the worst rating),’ while 26% scored at Tier 1. For 2020-21, 24% were at risk for Tier 3, and only 8% placed in Tier 1.

MaryBeth Bennett, principal at Westside Elementary, noted that in English Language Arts her students reached 39.4% proficiency in district benchmark assessments, exactly the same as last school year. For state benchmarks, students scored 33.3%, a decline from 37% in 2019-20. In math, students scored 29% proficiency on district benchmarks, down from 37.4% in 2019-20. In the same period, Westside went from 15% proficiency on state assessments last year to just .01% this year.

Bennett noted that while reading scores weren’t as bad as she thought they would be, she deemed her students’ math scores as “scary.”

“Way too much ‘red’” was what principal Rick Hale observed in STAR math and reading scores at McCain Middle. Red, as his graphs refer to as “low” growth, represented 50.2% of students. 28.1% showed “typical” growth and only 21.7% showed “high” growth.

In reading, even more red was noted, with 59.3% of students showing “low” growth. “Typical” growth was achieved by 23.8% of students, while only 16.8% showed “high” growth.

At Payette High, principal Jacob Williams and dean of students Matt Allison reported STAR math and reading scores: In math, results showed 44.3% of students were achieving “low” growth, 30.4% showed “typical” growth and 25.3% showed “high” growth, for an schoolwide score of 55.7%. Reading results showed a relatively even spread of growth, with 36.8% scoring “low”, 32.9% scoring “typical” and 30.3 showed “high” growth, with the school scoring 63.2% overall.

Addressing the deficits

McKenzie said one issue affecting how students take tests is the difference in technology at school versus that at home.

“They come in proficient on tablets and phones, but on this test the best vehicle is a monitor, keyboard and mouse,” said McKenzie. “This is their first test, not only assessment, but it’s their first test using that type of technology. it’s actually a fifteen-to-thirty minute test, so if you’re thinking about five-year-olds, that’s a big, big, big thing.”

McKenzie added that he expected assessment scores to rise as time goes on and as students become comfortable with classroom computers. He shared that students are being given individual growth targets, based on where they started at the time of testing and he aims for 70% of students to score proficient on assessments.

Bennett said Westside would approach the deficit in progress through cross-checking of reports by classroom and grade level to identify deficient skills, using curriculum guides to target said skills, and setting aside practice time to practice skills, including on an individual basis.

Hale noted that similar skills targeting is happening at McCain.

At Payette High, testing schedules are being adjusted to avoid losing instructional days to testing, according to Gilbert.

Gilbert said that having students in the classroom is key to reversing these declines.

“There’s a lot of really great things happening; Payette students have been in school since ‘day two,’ as we canceled one. We have been live and we can work with kids that are here in school. We think that that’s what’s good for kids.”

As far as keeping students in-person, the board continues to explore options including adding fogging machines to campuses to enhance cleaning measures.

“I don’t know how big of one you would need or what the cost is, but as far as fogging an entire classroom and killing the virus, that’s what we do in the ambulance anytime we’ve had a legit exposure,” was one example brought up by Trustee Ethan Mittelstadt, an ambulance technician. “It’s what you would use in all the hospitals and all the surgical rooms, that type of thing.”

Gilbert noted that despite Southwest District Health holding Payette County under a ’red’ health alert, COVID-19 infection rates were “looking good.” Payette had a daily incidence rate of 4.199 per 10,000 people, as of Oct. 16.

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