The COVID-19 pandemic has begun to reflect some fluctuation in baseline standardized tests in Jacksonville School District 117. Reading and Math scores for the NWEA assessment showed a large variety of numbers between grades this year for the first assessment.
Superintendent Steve Ptacek says the district expected the large swings: “There’s a giant flux from grade to grade and from school to school. We do know that with the students being out from March 12th until we took the test was definitely going to have an impact on our students, and it wasn’t going to be an equitable impact. That impact was going to be different between the level of support students were receiving when we were in our remote learning sessions in the Spring. I do think that with the NWA, we have differences in that from grade to grade each year; some of the benchmarks and standards that are set at different grades are more challenging in the beginning than other years. Once again, these are benchmark setting numbers set at the beginning of the year from which we will then measure our success over the entire year. I think we are actually pleasantly surprised with some of the results and beginning numbers based upon our worries with the kids being out for so long.”
Ptacek also says that remote learners were not given the NWEA assessment because of the lack of a controlled environment for them to administer the test. The next test is expected to take place in January. Ptacek says that administrators all around the state are keeping an eye on standardized tests as teachers are pushed to return to primary learning objectives in the classroom: “I’m looking forward to our instructors being able to focus on just improvements that they know on primary learning objectives. It’s going to be an interesting year to see, does the change in focus from the state’s testing to primary learning objectives, is that going to actually help our MAP scores or is it going to have any factor at all? I think, and in the superintendents’ meetings that I’ve attended, I think a lot of people are really going to be interested in seeing what’s the impact on the state test scores not just with the pandemic but with a change in focus.”
Ptacek says it has been reinforcement of the idea of getting students back to in-person learning: “We’ve definitely seen an increase in students coming back. Jacksonville Middle School is down to 13.5% of the students on remote. At one point in time at the beginning of the year, they were in the high twenties. Now, with 83.5% of the students in person, that’s wonderful. Eisenhower I know is under 20%. I think it’s actually under 18% remote. I think as parents start to gain confidence in what the district has been doing, seeing that there has not been a rash of any outbreaks that’s been associated with the schools, and how we are responding. I think a lot more people are getting a lot more confident about bringing their kids back. Our recent parent-teacher conferences had a big impact. We had 18 kids return to in-person learning at Jacksonville Middle School one day after parent-teacher conferences. I think many of the parents are realizing they are just not being as effective at getting their students from Point A to Point B at home as they are able to in school.”
Ptacek says that parent-teacher conferences also helped bridge the gap with some of those students who had not been participating since March. He says that the conferences were able to make it clear to parents and students who are in danger of retention know that they still have time to change course. He says the number of those students who are in a retention situation is not as large as once thought. Ptacek praised the staff and School Nurse Cindy Weger for their continued efforts to keep COVID-19 at bay so the district can continue to have success in the classroom.