The U.S. Department of Education released new data today regarding the National Assessment of Educational Progress – also known as the Nation’s Report Card – which assesses sample fourth and eighth graders across the country in reading and math. Data shows a decline in student learning compared to pre-pandemic levels. Scores dropped in 43 states, with the largest decline in eighth grade math. It is believed the steep declines (some reports indicate a 20-year reversal) is a result of the COVID lockdowns, which prevented many students from in-person learning for extended periods of time.
We have been hearing about learning loss throughout the pandemic, but at St. Michael’s School, we did not believe we were experiencing the same phenomenon. Teachers and administrators met regularly over the past three years to discuss student progress, and while there were a few areas of setback, they were primarily centered on social and emotional growth rather than academic growth. To verify our observations with data, we first identified students in each grade who were enrolled at SMS from 2019 through 2022 and then plotted the group’s standardized test score average in STAR Reading and Math at each testing interval (3 times per year, with the exception of Spring 2020). The reports generated trend lines, and in EVERY grade in BOTH reading AND math, there was positive growth. If you open this link, you will see the trend lines for all grades in reading and all grades in math. (Current grade 4 reflects scores from grades 1-3; current grade 5 reflects scores from grades 2-4, etc.). You will notice there is no dip in learning during or after the pandemic – measurable growth occurs schoolwide throughout the three-year period. It must be noted that while we only have scores for reading and math, we believe the same progress has been made in social studies, science, and religion as well.
Last Monday, at our faculty training day, I shared the charts with our teachers. First, I congratulated them for their role in our students’ success, but then I asked them why, specifically, they thought our scores were so impressive. They mentioned our quick roll-out of distance learning in March 2020. We closed school on Friday, March 13, spent Monday, March 15 training teachers, and then began instruction on Tuesday, March 16. For many schools, students were not actively learning for many weeks, while we only missed a day. Then, during the 2020-2021 school year, unlike other schools, we resumed in-person learning for 90 percent of our student body, while another 10 percent chose to learn from home. Our students did not experience a dip in learning, because learning at St. Michael’s School never ceased.
That, perhaps, explains the growth from 2019 – 2021, but what about 2021 – 2022? At that
point, most schools were back fully in-person, yet they continued to decline while we continued to soar. It is possible other schools had to overcome a larger initial loss and it is taking a while to reverse the negative trend. Our success, however, may be related to our comprehensive school curriculum that is aligned among and between grade levels ensuring there are no gaps, and our commitment to utilizing Visible Learning best practices, such as learning intentions and success criteria, which provide clarity and helps our students better understand where they are in the learning process, where they need to go, and how they are going to get there. It is also possible that the additional programs and support staff we have at SMS are contributing to the positive effect. We strongly believe in the importance of educating the “whole child” and we value the experience students glean from exposure to Fine Arts, Athletics, Technology, and Spanish. Our Resource Program, that includes a Resource Director, Literacy Specialist, two reading resource teachers, two math resource teachers, and two science resource teachers, supports not only students with learning differences but also those who are working above grade level. Further, our school counselor is able to assist students who are struggling with social and emotional needs and get them back on track and focused on learning. Finally, we recognize the role that our parents play in partnership with us in helping their children succeed.
Above all, we are grateful to God, our Heavenly Father, to whom we turn in times of sorrow as well as joy. He has Blessed us richly.