Younger Moffat County students actually strode forward last year, not back
Interventions and aggressive programs helped students avoid pandemic backslide, district says
Across the country, early elementary educators are working to make sure students whose first years were partially online can catch up. But students in Moffat County managed to avoid falling behind and — in most cases — were able to exceed expectations.
Zach Allen, Director of Curriculum, Educator Effectiveness & Shared School for Moffat County School District, said that the beginning of the pandemic was especially difficult for kindergarten and first graders. He said that this particular age already has a “summer slide,” or gap in learning when the summer months roll around, but that slide was intensified with the last two months of school in spring of 2020 having gone virtual.
“Those are the kiddos that hadn’t learned to read efficiently yet, and so much of online learning really is reliant on reading,” Allen said. “They kind of, in a lot of ways, lost three months of instruction to two and a half months of instruction from when we closed at the end of that school year. Granted, we did start up full time for kindergarten and those kindergartners who were then first graders here, but we have a lot of ground to catch up.”
Last fall, kindergarten through fifth grade were completely in person, while the middle and high schools were in a hybrid format — students were split into two cohorts that took turns attending in-person and online classes. After three quarters, Moffat County students returned to full in-person classes, where they were required to wear masks throughout the school day.
Allen said that, initially, younger students were not on track to meet goals by the winter of last year. Then, he said, several interventions were put into place to combat the “slide loss” for those students. Those methods included putting extra funds into after-school programming during the school year and into summer school in recent weeks, and both were open to all students in the district. Allen said that though these methods aren’t new, they were crucial to the success of the students who used them.
“I added some (resources) in terms of the after-school programming and the summer school, but without our early intervention systems at the elementary level, we would not have gotten to that place where we were,” he said. “From not projecting to meet those goals, to a place where we exceeded them from the winter benchmark to the end of the year.”
In several checkpoints for student growth, Moffat County elementary students exceeded expectations. Allen said that one goal for the district was to move 50% of students labeled “below benchmark” up one category to be considered “at benchmark.” Moffat County was able to improve 54% of those students.
Allen said that during a normal year, MCSD students typically fall below the “national norm” based on the standards of NWEA, a research-based nonprofit that creates education assessments. However, even when compared to a non-pandemic year, MCSD students in kindergarten, first and second grade exceeded national norms in various subjects last year. In terms of growth, MCSD exceeded the national projected growth in five grade levels: kindergarten, first grade, second grade, fourth grade and eighth grade.
“In reading, we exceeded the national norm in terms of our actual students’ achievement — not the growth part yet — but we exceeded the national norm, (which are) pre-COVID norms — in kindergarten, second, fourth and eighth (grades),” Allen said. “We’ve not exceeded the national norm by that many grade levels before in reading.”
Allen said this kind of growth can be attributed to several different conditions over the past year.
One of those reasons is that the school district is working on a “guaranteed viable curriculum” based on evidence-based practice in the classroom. Another reason, he said, is providing teachers with quality professional development.
“We’ve been working hard on training teachers in evidence-based practice — specifically in math — with the use of the consultant from The New Teacher Project,” Allen said. “We’ve worked with consultants in early literacy grants (and) state consultants to kind of work on evidence-based best practice. So it’s a lot of different things.”
Despite growth in the lower grades, Allen said it is the secondary levels of MCSD that are more of concern. Having upper levels going to school in person half the time and switching to remote learning the other half meant that their curriculum needed much more adjustment, Allen said. Students used Edgenuity — an online learning platform that was used in many schools across the country — for online learning.
“Edgenuity, while it was a good stopgap measure for dealing with quarantines and things of that nature, really isn’t the engaging curriculum that we need,” Allen said. “I think a lot of those stories are about engagement, and some of that would be our curricular choices that we’re trying to correct now.”
Allen said that he and other members of school district staff spent a week in June revamping the curriculum to get ready for a school year without Edgenuity.
“At the high school, we weren’t really thrilled with the curriculum that we kind of used as the backbone — Edgenuity,” he said. “We’re moving away from Edgenuity back into our own curriculum that we’ve been working on and curating.”
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Come Jan. 27, Moffat County School District could be looking ahead to a new type of school week.