HALEYVILLE - Comparing test scores among school systems during the COVID-19 pandemic is not like comparing apples to apples, but apples to lemons. However, local school officials are trying their best to make lemonade through strict remediation and assessments.
Principals at each campus within Haleyville City Schools may be dealing with different student test scores, but all agree on one thing--test scores have dropped since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
School officials have continued to say say during the pandemic that the best place for students to learn is in a traditional classroom. However, about 10 percent of the school’s student population have opted to learn virtually at home, and school systems had their school years cut short in March due to the pandemic, when the state ordered all schools to shut down. The shutdown kept systems from doing the summative testing that normally would have been administered during the spring months.
Haleyville City Schools Superintendent Dr. Holly Sutherland noted test scores were not where educators want them to be due to a combination of factors, primarily the hardships brought upon school systems due to the pandemic.
“Overall, missing five months of school is detrimental to everybody, across the state and nation,” Sutherland began.
“I do think we are behind where we would like to be,” she admitted. “But I look forward to seeing strides in data at the halfway point or semester point to see if a lot of things we have put in have been beneficial.”
The school district has purchased some programs allowing educators to fill in some gaps through more individualized instruction, Sutherland explained.
The school system also changed testing, which was another factor, she said.
“We did testing at the first of the year, and we will do that again in person. Even our virtual students will be asked to come in. They also come in to take their exams, so we can ensure some type of equity there, as well.”
So, educators should be able to better gauge test scores and areas in need of improvement by looking at data after the holiday break.
“Of course, we’re not where we want to be because we missed five months of instruction,” she pointed out.
Not only did some students miss school the five months of closure, but some have also missed an additional 14 days here and there due to being quarantined or having the COVID-19 virus, Sutherland further explained.
“We have had a couple (of students) who have been exposed twice or different family members have had it,” she said.
Educators are expressing concerns about virtual learning, or learning in the online format from home and not having a teacher there in person to help with their lessons.
“Some students are doing it beautifully. Some of our students have fallen way behind,” Sutherland said. “We feel we will continue to see that, but as long as (virtual learning) is an option and parents are choosing that, we are in a quandry.”
Sutherland said she understands if those students doing virtual studies feel they might not need to currently be in a traditional classroom due to safety concerns amid the pandemic.
“It’s a very difficult program. It’s very difficult for any child to manage independently. Unless they have a parent sitting with them five to six hours a day, as most of our parents cannot do...it provides challenges, and I think we have seen that in our grades,” Sutherland continued.
Sutherland fears that educators will see the impact of missing five months of school for years to come.
“We have some gaps to fill,” she said. “Our teachers are working so hard. Our instructional staff is working hard.”
Lack of internet service in homes has been a major hindrance for virtual studies, according to educators.
The Wi-Fi equipped buses provided to HCS by the Winston County School system are not being utilized as they should be, according to educators.
“We haven’t had a lot of use of that,” Sutherland noted. “I think it’s because of transportation issues.
“That’s why I am so hesitant to go virtual even for a week...The reality is we’re probably got 30 percent of our population who are not going to do anything virtually because they just don’t have the capacity, whether it be internet or support,” Sutherland continued.
“They lose another week, and we just don’t have weeks to lose,” she pointed out.
During an Oct. 27, Haleyville School Board working session, educators across the HCS district gave Sutherland and board members an in-depth look at these struggles through downward spirals in test scores--scores that reflect students being out for several months due to COVID and missing their spring assessments.
“We don’t have any data to look at from last year’s summative tests,” began Haleyville Elementary Assistant Principal Emily Johnson, who was the first administrator to give a testing report. Elementary Principal Christy Bice was unable to attend the meeting due to being in quarantine (at that time) due to contact tracing from COVID-19, officials confirmed.
Not only did each administrator in attendance go over their test results from assessments given when school opened the irdoors in August, but also shared with the board their goals and objectives, which include increasing those test scores.
In fact, one of the first of the elementary school’s 2020-21 goals was to increase student achievement in the areas of reading and mathematics, Johnson said.
This, according to the list, will be done through multiple channels, such as progress monitoring and interim assessments.
The goals are to increase reading and math by 60 percent of students meeting individual growth targets, with a 75 percent student increase on the iReady test tier 1 and 2 levels.
“A lot of people think it’s just about the third grade test,” Johnson said, “but there are so many different requirements and new components that we’re having to meet.”
Johnson explained the school is using iReady, a state-approved testing tool that enables them to collect data on reading and math, providing individualized pathways for each student.
When students were tested at the beginning of the school year, they received an individualized printout of their strengths and weaknesses, Johnson said.
Using this data, educators were then able to inform parents of student progress.
“Another component of the Literacy Act is if we see a student is deficient in reading, we have 15 days to contact the parents and get together a reading plan, steps we are going to try to take and measures we are going to take to get the students up to par,” Johnson said.
The yellow color coded charts provided from results of i-Ready showed that 91 percent of kindergartners, 82 percent of grade 1, 52 percent of grade 2, 35 percent of grade 3, 45 percent of grade 4 and 28 percent of grade 5--were behind one grade level according to the test results.
Students on grade level, shown by green in the chart, were 9 percent of kindergarten, 5 percent of grade 1, 10 percent of grade 2, 20 percent of grade 3, 16 percent of grade 4 and 18 percent of grade 5.
The red color code showed that 13 percent of grade 1, 38 percent of grade 2, 45 percent of grade 3, 39 percent of grade 4 and 54 percent of grade 5 were more than one grade level behind, according to their test results.
There were no red codes for kindergarten, according to the chart.
“So considering they missed a large majority of the last part of school last year, we feel we can move these students in the yellow without Tier 3 intervention,” Johnson assured. “We feel like our classroom teachers can get these kids in the yellow to where they need to be.”
Students will be administered another test in December, Johnson said.
“Hopefully, we will see better numbers,” she said. “Our teachers are working extremely hard. Our students are working hard to make gains, and we feel confident that we can get the green and the yellow up to grade level and make progress with those in the red, as well.”
BOE President Donna Jones confirmed that the tests are given at the beginning, middle and end of the school year in order to monitor progress.
“I anticipated this,” Jones stated. “They took the test the fourth day of school. Really, they didn’t have time to be acclimated to being back in school.
“I think (the test) was given too early,” Jones added. “After being out for almost a semester..”
Sutherland noted that value can be taken from these results in looking back on the test from December of 2019 to August of 2020, to gauge how much students lost from being out of school five months due to the pandemic.
“It’s lower than we want it to be,” Sutherland admitted. “But I think it does show us how much of a loss happened because kids weren’t in school.
“In the end, it is going to show us the true growth,” the superintendent added.
Middle School Principal Bo Wilcoxson noted the first item on the list of his school’s goals and objectives for the new year is to increase math and English scores.
“We want to improve our math and ELA (English language arts) scores by five percent for each grade level,” the summary report noted. The middle school has implemented a new curriculum remediation/enrichment class for all students. Sixth grade students use their STEAM class, 7th grade has an academic opportunity period and 8th grade uses computer discoveries class for extra support.
Middle school students took their first round of testing the first of September, Wilcoxson said.
Test results, Wilcoxson explained, were difficult to compare, since students took the Scantron test in January before COVID hit, compared to the most recent IXL test given the first of September.
It should be noted that IXL is not only the name given to a particular test, but also a style of remediation being used.
A chart presented by Wilcoxson showed student gains in reading from Scantron to IXL of 37 percent for 6th grade, 32 percent for 7th grade and 54 percent for 8th grade.
“Eighth grade was something we were proud of...at 54 percent, but we are still pushing,” Wilcoxson explained.
Students will be taking another assessment when they come back from the holidays in January.
“Then we will get a good read and some good information,” Wilcoxson said.
Math scores showed a far lower percentage of gains for each grade level, at 11 percent for 6th grade, 8 percent for 7th grade and 33 percent (again a higher percentage) for 8th grade, the chart showed. These gains were from the Scantron test in January to IXL in September, Wilcoxson explained.
“As you can tell, math is not quite where our reading is. It sure is not where we want it, and I know it is not where you want it,” Wilcoxson told the board.
This test data is used to contrast not only the gains from one test to the other, but also to ration out students attending school in the actual classroom versus students who have opted for virtual learning during the pandemic, school officials said.
The middle school started this year with 45 students of the school’s total 380, doing virtual or at-home lessons which has decreased to around 20 students, according to Wilcoxson.
“It took the kids two or three weeks to learn what to do, then on top of that...the lessons were difficult,” he said about the virtual platform. “The lessons being difficult kind of encouraged them to come back to school.”
Another of the middle school’s goals and objectives is to have confidence in understanding Schoology, Zoom, IXL and other educational platforms students are using, especially during the virtual learning process.
The school feels more confident in Google Classroom, since that is a format the district has used for the past two to three years, Wilcoxson continued.
“Definitely, we want our teachers confident in all of it,” he said.
High School Assistant Principal Candy Garner noted the high school finished out the year well, despite being out early due to the pandemic.
“Like all of you, I am concerned about the kids who have not been in school, not just because of their grades, but because of their home lives,” Garner pointed out.
Garner has been doing research to see which students are failing and not receiving special services by relying on classroom teachers to give them extra attention.
The high school’s number one goal is to effectively implement Schoology and other supplemental programs to make sure all teachers are comfortable with its features, in an effort to strive for equity in instruction for all students, Garner explained. Schoology was a program the state was giving schools before the pandemic hit.
“We would have got to implement that and play with that this year in a perfect world and next year really put it into our classrooms,” said Garner.
“Then all of a sudden, because of COVID, we were forced to learn how to use it in a short period of time and expect our teachers to learn it and share it with our students,” Garner added.
The district has purchased IXL, which is being reviewed by teachers. Also, plans are being made for a school official from Hoover to map out a strategic plan specific for HCS students to become more successful
High School Principal Davey Reed noted the school in doing test score remediation would have two boot camps. Any student can also sign up for a six-week remediation
course in preparation for the ACT test given in April. During the six week boot camp, students are taught how to take and process a test.
“How do I know it’s good? My child went from a 26 to a 32 (score),” said Reed.
The Problem Support Team is also in place to help struggling students, whether academically or behaviorally, Garner continued.
The Google document is used to help educators to monitor communication and progress between teachers and students. “It’s just a way to keep communication open between the students, the parents and us,” Garner said.
Reed focused board members attention on ACT average or composite scores for each grade level at the high school.
Freshmen students had a 14.5 composite score combined from the subjects of English, math, reading and science. This includes composites of 11.8 in English, 15 in math, 15 in reading and 15.2 in science.
Sophomores 17.1 composite; including 15.7 in English, 16.2 in math, 18.6 in reading and 17.6 in science.
Juniors: 17.3 overall composite, including 16 in English, 16.7 in math, 18.3 in reading and 17.7 in science.
Seniors: overall composite 17.6, including 17.4 in English, 17.5 in math, 17.5 in reading and 17.5 in science.
Students are assigned specific areas of study that are based on their weaknesses on the ACT, for a great remediation assessment, Reed explained.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.