The Board of Education received an update on students’ academic progress and overview of the District’s expanded summer programming at its meeting on Wednesday, May 19. The presentation, provided by Dr. Steven Garcia, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Personnel, Dr. Maria Thompson, Director of Humanities and Dr. Thomas Callahan, Director of Math and Science, provided insight into how the District is tracking Math and ELA data and students’ growth as we emerge from the pandemic.
The District uses a variety of internal assessments to track student progress, including benchmark assessments, a tool called AIMSweb Plus and regular classroom assessments. These assessments, along with informal feedback from teachers, are used to monitor students' growth throughout the year and determine whether students are meeting or exceeding standards, or whether additional supports or changes to curriculum sequencing are needed.
Dr. Thompson said that overall students in grades K-8 are meeting target levels this year and that the normal portion of the curriculum has been covered despite the loss of in-person instruction due to the pandemic. The data analysis shows that students began the year two to three months behind in reading as a result of the shift to remote instruction last spring. Dr. Thompson noted that the pandemic/hybrid learning created additional challenges, particularly in grades K-1 where masks made teaching and phonemic awareness particularly difficult.
Areas of concern include reading and writing stamina and partnership skills, which were difficult to build due to the pandemic. To overcome these challenges, the District has used a multi-pronged approach to bolster ELA skills. This included targeted direct instruction and increased classroom and intensive supports under the MTSS program at the elementary and middle school level, providing supplies to assist with learning at home, ensuring that students had access to additional online texts and providing teachers professional development. This approach has proved effective and Dr. Thompson said close attention will be paid to the spring 2021 assessment data with the hope that the return to Full-Time In-Person instruction will further bolster students’ growth and skills.
Over the long term, the District will continue to utilize MTSS and Tier 1 supports to assist all students and review the curriculum to make sure that any content and skills that need more attention are addressed. There will also be continued professional development through the Teachers College Reading and Writing program and a review of online resources, such as NewsELA, RazKids, MyOn, IXL and Sora, which have been instrumental in helping students this year. The District will also continue to review the curriculum through the lens of cultural responsiveness and “windows and mirror” to increase motivation to read.
Dr. Callahan said the math data suggested that the pandemic has had an impact on students this year with mean testing values slightly lower in grades K, 1, 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8 year over year. However, he noted that the scores in nearly all grades remain above national norms.
He said that virtual learning has made building math skills difficult, in part because students were unable to use manipulatives and the program relies heavily on guided practice in the classroom. At the beginning of the school year, the District was able to provide manipulatives, that are used to help build number sense, to families for use at home. Like with ELA, Dr. Callahan expects trends in math to improve with the return to Full-Time In-Person instruction. He also said a pilot of learning software Dreambox appeared to significantly improve students’ performance and this could be utilized more broadly to make up for learning loss.
Shortly, spring data will be analyzed, which will inform how the District can adjust curriculum with the goal of ensuring that students make up skills and content over time. As an example, Dr. Callahan noted that measurement, a core component of the curriculum, was not covered as deeply this school year so that teachers could focus on other areas of math. Next year, however, he said measurement skills could be incorporated into the Science curriculum, allowing more time for math instruction.
In September, a baseline will be established through assessment to inform practice and remediate gaps. Curriculum pacing will also be adjusted to integrate components from previous grade levels into the curriculum as needed and/or to focus on content areas where students aren’t as strong as they normally would be at the beginning of the year.
As in past years, the District is offering several summer programming opportunities to assist students who have been identified as needing additional assistance moving into next year. These programs are traditionally housed at Pelham Middle School, which is the District’s only fully air conditioned building. Recognizing that more students are in need of these supports, the programs have been expanded this year to allow for additional capacity and the middle school will be fully utilized with summer programming. Below is an overview of the District’s summer 2021 programming.
Summer Stars/Extended Summer Academy
This program offers targeted and personalized instruction in math, reading and writing for incoming Gr. 1-6 students. Enrollment is by invitation and based on assessment data and MTSS team/teacher recommendations. The program runs for five weeks and pre and post assessments are used to monitor and measure student growth. Families have already been contacted if their child qualifies for this program.
Middle School Summer Program
This program is designed for incoming 7th-9th graders and is also by invitation only. The program runs for 15 days and offers instruction in math, reading and writing. Similar to the elementary program, eligibility for this offering is determined based on assessment data and MTSS team/teacher recommendations. Families will be notified about eligibility once spring assessment data is analyzed.
PMHS Credit Recovery
This year, the District is also offering a credit recovery program for incoming 9-12th grade students. Enrollment is based upon course and/or Regents examination failures in Living Environment, Algebra, English, Earth Science, Global History and U.S. History. This program will offer targeted instruction to help students learn key skills and areas that they struggled with during the year and allow them to recoup lost credits for their transcript.