GFPS seeing COVID-19 impact to student achievement; planning for remediation programs

Officials at Great Falls Public Schools are seeing the impact of COVID-19 and lost classroom instructional time with the latest Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, assessment.

The assessment is done in the fall, winter and spring to track student progress. For 8th graders, the results are used in determining placement in high school courses, including honors programs.

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The test is available to students in classroom instruction and was also available to remote students, but was optional, so the results dont’e encompass all GFPS students. Students in grades K-10 take the computer adaptive test, meaning as the student gets correct answers, the questions get harder.

District administrators presented the data from the winter assessment during the Feb. 8 school board meeting and there are some glimmers of students holding steady and showing the same levels of progress as normal, but there are areas where students are not progressing as they should and at the high school level, there are more students who are credit deficient than normal for this point in the year.

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Twenty percent of freshmen are credit deficient at the end of their first semester, said Secondary Assistant Superintendent Heather Hoyer. Fifty percent of freshman who are remote learners are credit deficient.

“This data is overwhelming and heartbreaking,” said Kim Skornogoski, school board member. “What we’re seeing here is a deep scar for missing school” for three months and in some cases a year and three months.

She said that scars take time to heal but students are expected to meet academic standards and graduate on time.

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That’s why the district is putting so much effort into credit recovery programs, Hoyer said, to get students back on track.

Only 4 percent of seniors are credit deficient now, which Hoyer said was largely attributable to counselors who as students were considering going remote, “counseled them and counseled them well” as a number of students were talked back into the classroom because school staff knew remote learning would be detrimental to them.

For secondary education, there are 146 students in the local remote setting, meaning they’re getting packets and support from their home schools. That’s about 5 percent of students.

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There are 511 remote students through the Remote Learning Center, or 17.5 percent, for a total of 657 total students in remote learning of some kind, or 22.5 percent.

There were 708 in the fall, officials said, but some have dropped out, gone to homeschool, moved, or can’t be found.

Hoyer said they weren’t seeing the normal growth for math, and saw some decreases in reading.

“We see our math scores going backward,” Hoyer said, specifically for remote learners.

GFPS officials were beginning to see slides in math in the 4th, 5th and 6th grades. Those are highlighting the lost classrooom time at the end of the last school year when students would have been learning more complex concepts, according to Ruth Uecker, assistant superintendent for K-6.

For 5th grade, she said there are few kids on par or advanced for math and sixth grade math scores are also concerning.

Uecker said the issue is compounding, because as the work gets harder, they can fall further behind, so the district is working on target instruction.

“This is our current reality,” Uecker said. “You can’t expect to lose a whole quarter of instruction and maintain the same level of growth.”

Staff is getting their head around the data and then developing plans for remediation, she said.

Uecker said that it’s lucky GFPS was able to return to classrooms and have students in school five days a week. She said that if they’d done alternating days or more remote, it’s possible that the achievement gaps would have been more significant.

Hoyer said that at the secondary level, math leaders and administrators were meeting Feb. 9 to start building remediation plans now that they have concrete data.

She said that seeing the math slides in elementary grades means the slide will continue if they can’t remediate it, and “understanding that we have years of work, we want to start addressing it.”

Average daily attendance has remained steady for elementary students.

For secondary students, attendance for all learners on Jan. 6, 2020 was 89.96 percent.

On Jan. 6, 2021, it was 87.49 for face-to-face learners and 80.77 for remote learners, Hoyer said.

The administrators said they also anticipate needing to address more mental health issues for students who in some cases haven’t been with their peers for a year.

Lance Boyd, GFPS director of student services, said that 1 out of every 3 students that are fully remote reported the reason for not returning to school is based on anxiety around COVID-19.

He said that they’re also expecting an increase in the number of students who qualify for the extended school year program up to 130-140 students. But the biggest challenge for that will be finding staff to work the program, he said.