State Test Scores Skewed Due to Pandemic, NKY Education Leaders Say
Local education leaders react to data
In Covington Independent Public Schools, Superintendent Alvin Garrison said that there were bright spots in improvements in graduation rates among black and English-learner students.
The district's statement to RCN revealed that it was "not surprised by the decline in the scores overall."
“Like many districts, our students struggled during the Covid-19 pandemic,’’ Garrison said. “The reality is COVID-19 impacts poverty-stricken areas more so than others. We were not prepared to have school during a pandemic. It was a daily challenge. We did not have the infrastructure to address virtual needs. Early on, we did not have computers and internet access for all our students. We were playing catch up."
The City of Covington, Cincinnati Bell, and other partners worked last year to increase access to broadband internet across the city in response to students' challenges.
"We are thankful that the city helped with getting hot spots in the community,’ Garrison said.
In the meantime, the district is working to address what has been called "learning loss" brought on by the pandemic with an extended summer session and after-school programs.
With school back in session full-time this year as opposed to a hybrid in-person and virtual model adopted last school year, students are seeing more classroom time, five days a week instead of two. The district is also providing more one-on-one help with students and parents, Garrison said.
“We are disappointed in the scores, but we know our students can and will do better," he said.
The message from Newport Independent Schools was similar.
"The effects of COVID had an unfortunate impact on our students," Newport Superintendent Tony Watts said. "We didn’t test 100% of our kids so the data is skewed. While saying that, we still aren’t happy with the results. We are working diligently to close the COVID gap and help all or our students improve."
Dayton Independent Schools Superintendent Jay Brewer also echoed that sentiment, saying that the district finds "a lot of good news, some good-to-know news, and some news that will help us set goals and develop plans for this school year."
"Our strongest results are reflected in an across-the-board growth in district writing scores," Brewer said. "We implemented new writing strategies last year and are excited to see significant gains in this area. The process of writing is a great reflection of our students’ ability to communicate and think critically. We are proud of our growth."
Brewer also highlighted the middle school grades as "an area of strength" saying that the district is seeing "some of our best data coming from these grade levels."
"We are excited about the work occurring in our middle school as this is such an important transition phase for our students," Brewer said.
The district is also seeing ongoing improvements in math scores, he said.
"An area of opportunity throughout our district lies in ways to improve literacy," Brewer said. "Partnerships, grants, and new programming are already underway to bring about improvement in this area. We are proud of the work being done by our students, staff and families to Inspire, Engage and Grow."
In Bellevue Independent Schools, Superintendent Robb Smith said that the district has been singularly focused on taking care of students and families over the past eighteen months of the pandemic.
"Enrollment is up as it has become clear that we are about more than academics," Smith said. "The larger the sample size, standardized test results are nothing more than an affirmation of economics. Whether we are praised or vilified for results, both are incorrect. Our teaching staff is second to none; they know our kids’ strengths and areas of growth and work tirelessly in pursuit of excellence.
"Our kids are more than numbers."
In Ludlow Independent Schools, Superintendent Michael Borchers also noted how different the recent school years have been.
"It’s not possible to compare these scores to past years since all students statewide didn’t take the test, and it was obviously a very unusual instructional year for everyone," Borchers said. "We have been relying on our own interim assessment data that captures each student’s individual growth. We use this data to drive our instruction and interventions. Based on the school report card, we are extremely proud of our high graduation rate, which reflects our ultimate goal for our students."
Beyond the urban school districts, the suburban schools also faced similar challenges and are reviewing the skewed results of this year's school report card.
"There are some areas where our students excelled and brought their scores of Proficient and Distinguished up to the impressive heights we have come to expect from Beechwood students. In other cases, we know that there is a lot of work to be done," a news release from Beechwood Independent Schools in Ft. Mitchell said.
“Our teachers have done an exceptional job educating students through hybrid, virtual, and face to face learning. What these K-PREP scores show us is that the most important place for a Beechwood student to be is face to face with their teacher every day of the school year,” said Justin Kaiser, principal at Beechwood High School. “These test scores show us that virtual and hybrid schedules are not the ideal settings for our students; they need to be in a classroom with a teacher to interact with their peers and ask questions for clarification.”
“It is great to discuss curriculum again and game-plan some ways for us to grow students academically in innovative ways,” said Zach Ashley, Beechwood Elementary principal. “We want to spend our time moving forward, not worrying about what happened in the past. It is what our students want and what they need. We have a plan to make up any areas of academic need, but our focus is moving forward.”
"Although we endured a very difficult school year, our students performed well. There are always areas for improvement and our principals have already begun evaluating those opportunities," Superintendent David Rust said. "It is also noteworthy that due to the unique nature of our synchronous/hybrid instruction last year, our testing participation rates were much lower than they have been in previous years which make the longitudinal evaluation and comparability of these scores very difficult. However, all schools in Kentucky faced these same challenges, yet we were able to fare very well against the state average and ranked very high in several categories."
Among those categories celebrated in Campbell Co.: the district's composite ACT score is 17th in the state (out of more than 170 districts), its elementary math scores ranked 9th in the state, and there were also highlights in writing, science, and reading, Rust noted.
Editor's note: Typically, The River City News pulls all local data when the Kentucky Department of Education releases it annually, but because of the nature of the school year last year, and because of school leaders at the local and state level urging caution in drawing conclusions about the results, we are instead simply linking to the state report card for readers to explore their own schools and districts.
For more, visit the Kentucky School Report Card 2021.
-Michael A. Monks and Patricia A. Scheyer
Photo: The playground near Dayton High School closed during the pandemic in 2020 (RCN file)