By Megan Kelley
Lake Orion Community Schools Board of Education met on Feb. 10 with a packed agenda. One of the main focuses of the night was expected to be the district’s student achievement presentation.
Much like the student achievement presentation delivered in October of last year, the board was joined by district Data Specialist Missy Butki, who had prepared the district’s winter achievement data.
“As you look at this data and listen to how I explain some of the information, it is not a learning loss. That is a word that has been put out there over and over and over and we have to remember that our students have not had a loss,” Butki said. “We — I say we as in all of us — have defined it as such because we’re trying to compare our students to achievement that was ‘normal’.”
Butki explained that the district’s data is driven by benchmarks that were created two years ago, if not longer.
“Things have been said about ‘COVID-slide’, that we’re going to have these gaps and losses and deficiencies. And we are. And we are solving them and we’re finding ways to bridge that gap and continuously bring kids closer to what was ‘normal’,” said Butki.
Since March, students have had quite a bit of inconsistency when it came to not only their education, but their daily lives, Butki pointed out to the board.
“Our students have had to change their schedule multiple times. They have had to deal with going to school, not going to school, going in the morning, coming home in the afternoon; they have had to shift their normalcy multiple times. They have had to learn new ways to communicate, and new ways to stay connected. They have had to learn new things — chores around the house; they had to take on new responsibilities. They may have had to take on loss. They have had to take on the enormous amount of social media that is going on through multiple events in the last year. And for the first time ever, they have had to learn what ‘shelter in place’ means,” Butki said. “If we consider all of these social/emotional things that our students have gone through, we can’t call it a learning loss. They have learned a ton.”
Butki quoted Greek philosopher Plutarch, saying: “Minds are not vessels to be filled, but fires to be kindled. Fires don’t leak. You don’t measure them in months.”
All of this prefaced the following student achievement data.
The data was collected among Kindergarten through eighth-grade students district-wide using nationally-normed benchmark assessments from 2018-2019 for reading and math. These assessments are done through state-approved vendor, FastBridge Learning.
As they had mentioned in October, the district has not adjusted the traditional benchmarks and norms.
Right off the top, district data showed that 68 percent of K-8 students are meeting reading benchmarks, while 73 percent of second through eighth grade students are meeting math benchmarks. Kindergarten and first grade are omitted from the math data because both grade levels were not required to take their mid-year math screens.
Compared to years prior, in 2018-19, 77 percent of student in grades 4-8 were meeting reading benchmarks, while 75 percent were meeting math benchmarks. The year after that, 2019-20, 76 percent of students K-8 were meeting reading benchmarks and 76 percent of students in grades 2-8 were meeting benchmarks for math.
Since the 2019-20 school year, the number of K-8 students meeting reading benchmarks dropped eight percent, while the number of students in grades 2-8 meeting math benchmarks dropped six percent.
By grade level, the grades that show the most noticeable dip in student achievement were third and eighth grades.
“The third-grade dip, there I can tell you from being the math specialist for a while, third grade is where multiplication comes in,” Butki explained. “That’s a difficult concept and then division comes in as well. So, I can understand that slight dip there in third grade.”
While there was a slight dip in some grade levels, Butki believes the district is doing well with their math curriculum.
The more concerning percentage lies within early literacy at the kindergarten level. In October, the district found a similar issue in early literacy among first graders.
“When I showed you data in the fall, you might remember that first grade was really at risk. Those kids left in kindergarten, they didn’t get a lot of the early literacy skills. And so, when they got to first-grade they were not hitting those benchmarks. And the action we took was we put all of our support into first-grade,” explained Butki.
While first-grade is just under where they were in the fall, kindergarten literacy has taken a big hit, dropping from 71 percent meeting benchmark in the fall to just 41 percent meeting benchmark in the winter. In order to combat this, the district is expected to shift their focus onto kindergarten
As far as growth, in the 2019-20 school year, the district reports an average of 19.3 points of growth. This year, the district reports just 14.6 points of growth. While this number may look problematic, it is important to note that the national average growth is just 15 points.
Kindergarten and first grade growth in particular, though they have been the grade levels that raise the most concern, show close to average growth when it comes to the fall and winter composite scores, according to district numbers.
For grades 2-8, data shows that 66 percent of students in those grades made growth in reading and 70 percent made growth in math. However, this data does not include College Pathway students.
“In conclusion, we can say that eight out of ten students in Lake Orion Community Schools in grades K-8 made growth or College Pathway,” said Butki.
As for high school, the Michigan Department of Education made October testing optional this school year. The district had 75 percent participation in College Board Assessments.
In a breakdown by grade: freshmen took the PSAT 9, resulting in a mean score of 965, one point lower than the mean score from the year before. The sophomore class took the PSAT 10, the mean score being 1,014, 25 points more than the mean score the previous year. And the juniors took NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) resulting in a mean score of 1,057, 56 points lower than the year before.
As for the seniors who took the SAT in the fall, the mean score throughout the district was a 1,091, a 31-point increase from the year before while also exceeding the state and national mean.
Some theories as to why there was a score increase included the fact that the test was optional and no longer required for college entrance, but also that from April to October 2020, students gained more content and, according to Butki, have gotten more sleep than normal since March 2020.
Moving forward, the district plans to keep support in first-grade while also providing additional support to kindergarten.