Cumberland County students did see a learning loss over the extended school closures, but recent data shows students are making gains in reading and math.
“They are reading the data and looking at what they need to do for each individual person in their classroom,” said Stephanie Barnes, chief academic officer for the school system.
The school system uses Star Reading for reading benchmarks in grades 3-8; Star Early Literacy for grades kindergarten-2; and Star Math used in grades kindergarten-8. The assessments are given in the fall, at the end of the first semester and in the spring.
Director of Schools Ina Maxwell said there is not a lot of data on student achievement. State tests were canceled last year as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the nation.
“A benchmark is a snapshot in time, but it helps guide us,” Maxwell said.
Patricia Overstreet, math instructional coach, explained they had taken a comparison of student scores in fall and winter 2019 compared to 2020. The data included the percent of students scoring as “proficient” on the standards as well as student growth, which measures how students progress on their individual benchmark goals.
“That’s how many students are meeting their individual goals in the winter,” she explained.
In Star Early Literacy, 65.3% of students were proficient in 2020 compared to 74.2% in 2019. In growth, 59.9% were meeting their benchmark goals in winter 2020 compared to 61.8% in winter 2019.
In Star Reading, 52.6% of students score proficient in winter 2020 compared to 59.5% in winter 2019. In growth, 61.2% of students were meeting their growth goals compared to 63.3% in winter 2019.
“That tells me our teachers know where our children need to be and they’re working hard to get them there,” Overstreet said.
In Star Math, 67.9% of students were proficient in 2020 compared to 75.7% in 2019 while 67.9% were meeting their growth benchmarks in 2020 compared to 63.1% in 2019.
“So our students are growing compared to where they were,” Overstreet said. “In math, more are reaching their goals than last year.”
Maxwell said, “Our students and our teachers, I feel, have been very resilient. And our teachers know what our students need and they’ve been assisting with that.”
Student proficiency in reading and math will determine which students qualify for summer learning programs established by recent state legislation. The camps, lasting four to six weeks, would provide intensive instruction in reading and math standards.
However, the school system won’t likely receive scores from the annual TNReady tests, administered in the spring, until late in May.
“They understand that planning is essential, and we can’t wait until the end of May and be able to work with parents,” Maxwell said. “For our planning process to go forward, we have to have an idea how many students we’re going to need to serve.”
The school system has submitted a waiver request to the Tennessee Department of Education that would allow the schools to use information from benchmark data such as the Star Assessments.
The summer learning camps would have six hours of instructional programming each day, primarily four hours of reading and math instruction each day, one hour of remediation and intervention, and an hour of physical activity.
“It’s going to be intense,” Barnes said. “We have submitted some things we would like to have waived but not lose what the program is meant to do. We’re trying to look at it through the eyes of the parents and what they would want for their children.
“It is summer. We understand that. But we’ve also had a pandemic where they’ve lost learning, and we need to catch up.”
The state also established after-school summer mini-camps lasting an hour each day for four days each week with an emphasis on Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts and Math — STREAM.
“It’s meant to be a time of enrichment,” Maxwell said.
The school system will need to plan for staffing and logistics. Summer is often when schools take on larger maintenance projects, like painting or new flooring, and that would be a consideration.
The state requires schools to provide a licensed and endorsed teacher for the summer sessions, if available. If not, the school system could expand its search to student teachers or individuals with a college degree and a learning loss remediation preparation course. Stipends would be at least $1,000 a week for teachers. The school system would determine pay for other staff and tutors.
“I think we have to get the logistics down first so that they know what they are committing to,” Maxwell said. “Then, we may have an application process. We are still in the preliminary stages.”
In addition to teachers, there will also be a need for transportation, meals, facilities, and staff to administer assessments and provide administrative support.
Barnes said, “There will be opportunities for other staff to be part of this program.”
The state has said it will provide funding for summer camps for priority students. School systems can expand eligibility for the programs, but would be responsible for additional costs.
Meals can be provided through June 30 using a USDA school feeding program, ensuring students have breakfast, lunch and a snack each day.
The state also passed a bill prioritizing student literacy. That legislation provides for a state-provided universal screening tool and prioritizes a phonics-based reading instructional program. The school system’s Amplify textbook series for kindergarten-fifth grade is among the approved textbooks. Students with a reading deficiency are to be provided tailored supports and activities parents can use to support reading proficiency at home.
The bill also provides for additional professional development in literacy instruction and requires teacher training programs to provide all kindergarten-fifth grade teachers with training in foundational literacy skills. Teacher candidates will be required to pass a reading instruction assessment.