Steamboat educators say data about low grades at high school doesn’t paint accurate picture of learning loss |

Steamboat educators say data about low grades at high school doesn’t paint accurate picture of learning loss

During the Steamboat Springs Board of Education meeting Monday evening, parent Heather Maitre shared a statistic she said paints an alarming picture about how students are performing during the pandemic.

Maitre said there has been an 80% increase in students earning D’s and F’s at Steamboat Springs High School this spring when compared to last spring, but Superintendent Brad Meeks said this figure alone doesn’t tell the whole story.

“What you are seeing is basically where students are at a point in time, so it is not necessarily the grade they received at the end of the semester,” Meeks said.

The 80% increase is in the number of students with a D or an F during the months of February and March, both this year and last. Last year, there were 158 low grades in both months, and this year, there were 286 for each, according to data shared with Maitre and confirmed by Steamboat Pilot & Today.

This information is collected to inform parents and students about the status of their grades during the semester and is used to gauge eligibility for school sports. While many schools only run this report for athletes, the high school collects this information on all students.

“The reason that this report exists is so that we can encourage students and communicate with families about student progress and how they are doing,” said Dennis Alt, principal at the high school. “The purpose of that report is very different than how it is being used.”

Comparison data isn’t available for the end of last school year because schools where shuttered by the pandemic, but Meeks said the number of students who are on this academic warning list — meaning they have a D or an F — has declined from around 300 students at the end of March to about 230 in mid-April.

Students on academic warning list at Steamboat Springs High School (Source: SSSD)
Date Number of students on list
March 9 265
March 16 290
March 23 301
March 30 249
April 6 241
April 13 234

What tells more about student performance is final semester grades, Meeks said. Grades are not available for this spring yet, as school is still in session, but when looking at last fall, there were actually fewer D’s and F’s than in 2019.

There were 151 students with a D or F at the end of the 2020 fall semester as compared to 154 in fall 2019, according to the district.

“My biggest takeaway is that we are communicating well, and we are keeping students on track, especially when you look at the final grades for the semester,” Alt said.

Because things have been so different this year, Alt said teachers have needed to communicate more frequently, and this list has been a tool to help them know when students need more help.

Jay Hamric, the district’s director of teaching and learning, said another factor to consider is how many students are using the district’s Edgenuity system for online classes. The online platform is much less flexible than a teacher and can make mid-semester grades look worse than they really are, he said.

For example, Hamric said a student could have really good quiz and assessment grades but may be behind on some of the online assignments, which puts them behind on the course completion rate, lowering their overall grade.

“Academically, they are actually doing well. They are learning; the work they show is an A or a B, but because they are a week behind, it brings it down to a D or an F,” Hamric said. “Typically, these kids, when you bring this to their attention, they sit there for a couple hours, punch out a bunch of high-quality work and get that grade up quite quickly.”

The district has allowed students to take their classes entirely online this year if they choose, but Hamric said the district will not continue that going forward. Instead, Edginuity would only be used for a class or two that a student has a conflict with and needs to take in another format.

While mid-semester grades may not be a good way to gauge learning loss, Hamric and Alt said the district has other ways to assess and address learning gaps. One way to do that is through the SAT, which students took last month.

Alt said comparing this year’s results, which are expected in August, to the results from 2019 should tell them a lot about how effective their hybrid learning model has been and what gaps there were in instruction.

Many of the students who would struggle in a typical year have been more impacted by the pandemic, Hamric said. Part of the strategy going into next fall is to intervene with these students early to get them back on track.

The district is also making some hires ahead of next fall to address learning loss. It will add a counselor to monitor student progress and address their social and emotional wellness, another math teacher to decrease class sizes and another English and language arts teacher to help with additional interventions for students who need extra help.

When talking with teachers, Alt said they feel confident the content they taught this year had a stronger focus on the most important aspects of a subject to ensure students grasped these concepts. Where Alt said he has more concern is in math and foreign languages, where pulling out the most important aspects doesn’t work as well.

This observation is why the district is adding another math teacher, Alt said.

Hamric said when he looks at assessments at the elementary and middle schools, they do not show a drastic academic gap when compared with previous years. They do show a slight decline in math, which has been seen nationally, Hamric said.

The district is also focused on the mental health impacts of the past year on students and was recently awarded a grant to fund a mental health coordinator for the district for the next five years. This person will work across the district to identify priorities with multi-disciplinary wellness teams at each school.

“I know (mental health) is a big concern and is something that we will continue to invest and put resources in and to strategize for our district next year,” Hamric said.

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