With some students slipping, Steamboat schools plan how to recover from pandemic | SteamboatToday.com

With some students slipping, Steamboat schools plan how to recover from pandemic

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — While there is not a complete picture of what students may have lost out on during the pandemic, some assessments used by the Steamboat Springs School District show some areas where students are falling behind.

Still, different assessments show some disagreement about where students might be slipping, or if they are at all, and do not reveal steep outcome declines that some predicted the pandemic would bring. The district is using these tools to help inform how to close some of the educational gaps COVID-19 has created this summer and next fall.

“We are seeing growth. Yes, there is going to be a bit of slide, but not to the level where we have a large, large, large percentage of our students who are falling way behind,” Jay Hamric, director of teaching and learning for the district, told the Board of Education on Monday night.

One assessment the district uses is called Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills or DIBELS, which is given throughout the year, and it is often used to identify students who may need more focused plans for reading.

When comparing data this school year with last, the number of students identified as being well below grade level in reading nearly doubled from 70 to 136, according to data shared during the meeting.

“It is a concern that we have more kids that are below grade level in reading, according to the DIBELS assessment,” Hamric said

The district also uses an assessment called iReady, which looks at elementary students’ achievement in both reading and math. When looking at winter assessments year over year, the district did not see a significant decline in reading scores for elementary students.

“We are very close to the same scoring levels at the mid-year point that we saw last year and the previous years,” Hamric said.

Hamric said the DIBELS and iReady scores do seem to paint a contradictory picture, and when breaking it down by grade-level, iReady scores show some increases in reading this year.

A major difference between the tests is that DIBELS is given one on one with a teacher where the iReady test is computer based. Hamric said DIBELS is likely doing a good job of identifying students who need more help while iReady is providing a larger school perspective.

In math, elementary scores are lower compared to the previous years, according to iReady, with 48% of students at least partially meeting grade level expectations this winter compared with 58% of them last winter and 61% during the 2018-19 school year.

“We are seeing more students in math still below grade level. While it is not huge, it still is a contrast from previous years,” Hamric said. “There are some slides in math across the nation, which also rings true for our Steamboat Springs School District.”

When it comes to closing some of these gaps, the district plans to reinstate programs it had to forgo during the pandemic but also wants to continue to emphasize staff development to increase student outcomes.

Hamric pointed to research from New Zealand researcher John Hattie, which shows teacher efficacy has a large impact on student outcomes. Effective teachers had more than double the impact on outcomes when intervening with students who may need more individual help.

Focusing on increasing teacher efficacy in the district is a large part of why there has been such a focus put on professional learning communities. These are used to help teachers work more collaboratively, and the school calendar has been shaped with these days in mind. Hamric also said the district wants to include more of the instructional and special education paraprofessionals in these conversations.

Another strategy is hiring more interventionists, who are generally long-term substitutes that provide a targeted approach to the needs of individual students or small groups.

“It is something that we are looking into, and there are some logistical challenges with that, but this is something that we would most likely see (produce) a large increase in student achievement,” Hamric said.

Finance Director Mark Rydberg said he anticipated the district would have money to fund these efforts because it will receive some one-time support from the state this year because of the pandemic.

Bringing back afterschool programming at the elementary level, which was shuttered during the pandemic, should also help, Hamric said, allowing students more time to work on schoolwork and make more connections with other students.

Summer school is another part of the plan. More students will be matched with teachers to provide reading support this summer than in previous years, and the district also intends on hosting summer camps at both elementary and middle schools, with some of those focusing on emerging bilingual students.

The larger summer school program will require more staff, and the district is also trying to be mindful of not causing additional fatigue on faculty members. Right now, the district hopes to build in some time between the end of the school year and the start of summer programming.

“We’re coming out of a pandemic, and everybody is exhausted,” said Superintendent Brad Meeks. “I think we have to really be intentional about when we start it and how long it lasts.”

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