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Kids learn better in classrooms

Face-to-face models show greatest gains in proficiency; student accomplishment expected to continue to improve in quarter 4

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | May 5, 2021


Kids learn better in school classrooms, data collected by the School District of Lee County shows.

Although distance learning proved to be effective in some areas, numbers presented to the School Board of Lee County this week pointed towards the “face-to-face” model showing the greatest gains in student proficiency as measured by the number of students showing a satisfactory or higher level of achievement.

District officials, though, concede that no group of students — regardless of whether they are attending classes on campus, or taking part in one of the two distance or remote learning options — is performing to a level the district would have hoped for pre-pandemic, officials said.

District-collected data shows that more than half of students in grades K-10 falling below proficiency levels in language arts going into the last quarter of the school year.

District numbers for mathematics, kindergarten level through geometry, showed nearly 60 percent of students failing to achieve proficiency in the third quarter.

With April instruction completed, and May still to go, officials expect numbers to improve, especially at the K-second grade level where students are not expected to be proficient until the last two weeks of the school year, officials said.

There was also some good news.

Given an online library option, student access numbers to books hit 470,819, up from 17,040 the year before.

Students also took part remotely in science labs, boosting science scores.

By the numbers

Secondary Teaching and Learning Director Lori Houchin began Monday’s presentation by explaining the different models offered this school year, which included Lee Home Connect (LHS) and Lee Virtual School (LVS).

She explained LHS as synchronous learning — students are logged in at the same time as their peers sitting in the classroom, engaging with their teacher, doing assignments and earning grades along the way.

“They are at home, but participating in class from period to period and bell to bell,” Houchin said.

LVS, on the other hand, works at the student’s pace with the student touching base with their teachers when needing assistance. The grading is very different, which is why families had to commit to a semester of LVS, so students could finish that half of credit course and have a clean break when moving over to face-to-face learning, she said.

“Lee Virtual School has about 33 teachers and 360 students. This year there have been a lot of changes,” Houchin said. Changes included super high enrollment of about 5,500 students and 202 teachers at quarter one.

“That went down to 2,300 students and 112 teachers currently,” she said.

Throughout the movement of students entering different teaching models — face-to-face, LHS and LVS — the district has kept statistics along the way.

Secondary Teaching and Learning Director Candace Allevato said the district tried to keep track of students in various models to get them back to face-to-face instruction when and where appropriate. There was a state executive order that instructed the district to reach out to any student not performing in a virtual, or innovative setting, to work with families and bring them back to in-school instruction, she said.

In January, after students returned to school after winter break, 78 percent of students were learning face-to-face, 18 percent via LHC and 4 percent via LVS. In-school numbers increased on April 14 to 82 percent face-to-face, 15 percent LHC and 3 percent LVS.

Data has been challenging, Allevato said, as LHC and LVS students took their progress monitoring assessments at home. The progress monitoring tool is used to see where students stand and to set them up with an individualized learning path through the iReady, or Star programs.

The data showed that districtwide, for kindergarten through 10th grade, students in English Language Arts, only 36 percent of students were “proficient” for quarter one. That number jumped to 48 percent on April 9 for quarter three.

The state considers proficiency to be a student score of 3 or higher on the FSA and EOC, the two state assessments.

The state uses a five-tier ranking with levels 3 to 5 marking satisfactory, proficient or a mastery level of achievement for grade level subject matter.

Levels 1 and 2 are below the proficiency level. Children determined to be at level 2, below satisfactory, are “likely to need substantial support for the next grade or course.” Children determined to be at level 1, inadequate, are “highly likely to need substantial support for the next grade or course.”

This means that, according to the data, with one quarter yet to go, districtwide, for kindergarten through 10th grade, 52 percent of students had not achieved proficiency in English Language Arts.

Officials expect the numbers to improve.

“The Reading progress monitoring that is reflective in this data is from the end of March,” district officials said via email. “This is still early in the year, as students have an additional 11 weeks to master standards for proficiency. This is very relevant for students in K-2, as these students are not expected to be proficient until the last two weeks of the school year, which is when they will complete their end of year progress monitoring.”

The presentation numbers were further broken down into students who were in the face-to-face model for quarters one through three. For quarter one, 33 percent of students were proficient in English Language Arts, 40 percent for quarter two and 48 percent for quarter three.

For LHC students remaining in the model for quarters one, two and three, 48 percent were proficient in English Language Arts for quarter one, 53 percent for quarter two and 56 percent for quarter three.

For LVS, quarter one was incomplete because the student population went from 300 to almost 6,000 students. Allevato said they were still onboarding students to the LVS platform and seeing what that looked like. For quarter two, students enrolled in LVS for all three quarters were 60 percent proficient in English Language Arts for second quarter and 65 percent for quarter three.

“Face-to-face students have made the largest growth from quarter one to three,” Allevato said, adding that they also had the greatest area for growth.

The data given to the board then broke down students who switched models at the different quarters.

Those who were enrolled in LHC, LHC and face-to-face had a 45 percent proficiency in English Language Arts for quarter one, 46 percent for quarter two and 55 percent for quarter three.

Students who did LHC and then face-to-face, and face-to-face, were 35 percent proficient in English Language Arts for quarter one, 38 percent for quarter two and 45 percent for quarter three.

The data for students enrolled in LVS and then face-to-face, and face-to-face, were 41 percent proficient in English Language Arts for quarter two and 51 percent for quarter three.

“For all the areas where the students came back to the face-to-face model, it showed the greatest growth in time. The face-to-face model made the greatest growth and the greatest level of opportunity,” Allevato said.

Data was also given for mathematics, kindergarten through geometry, with districtwide data showing 24 percent proficient for quarter one, 32 percent for quarter two and 41 percent for quarter three.

The data was further broken down for students enrolled in face-to-face instruction for all three quarters with 24 percent proficient for quarter one, 32 percent proficient for quarter two and 42 percent proficient for quarter three.

LHC students showed 21 percent proficiency for quarter one in mathematics, 32 percent proficient for 43 percent proficient for quarter two and 48 percent proficient for quarter three.

Again quarter one was incomplete for LVS, and quarter two showed 42 percent proficiency for mathematics and 50 percent proficiency for quarter three.

“We know that nationwide we saw a greater dip in mathematics than English Language Arts,” Allevato said, adding it is because math so skill specific and students missed all of the fourth quarter last year due to the pandemic. “They missed a quarter of content that builds on each other year after year. That was our greatest opportunity of opportunity.”

She said they saw a growth of 17 percent proficiency districtwide and 21 percent gain for the face-to-face model.

“Our partners at iReady are seeing the same exact thing. We are focusing in on our instructional model in how to build support for our students,” Allevato said.

Again, the data was further broken down to share information about those students that changed models.

For those students who were in LHC, LHC and then face-to-face showed a 34 percent proficiency for mathematics in quarter one, 39 percent in quarter two and 44 percent in quarter three.

The data for those students who were in LHC and then face-to-face, face-to-face had a 24 percent proficiency in mathematics for quarter one, 27 percent for quarter two and 35 percent for quarter three.

Chief Academic Officer Dr. Jeff Spiro said that right now they have more than 600 students enrolled in LVS, which they anticipate will increase as parents having until July to register. The numbers change weekly as new health and safety guidelines are released.

One of the areas that is receiving conversation for LVS is providing additional models for students to have increased student-teacher contact time.

Board member Betsy Vaughn said when the learning models were first rolled out at the beginning of the year there was a huge misunderstanding with distance learning and LVS.

“I’m wondering if as we look at it this year, we can’t have a model lesson for each grade level,” she asked for those who have never been enrolled in Lee Virtual.

Vaughn said if they work through a lesson plan they can see firsthand how the school year will be and then can make an educated decision as to whether their child will succeed in that setting.

Spiro said that was one of the lessons learned is that parents need to be educated a little earlier. He thought Vaughn’s suggestion was a great one for parents to see what the school is all about.

Lee Virtual School Principal Mary Blackman said they are having an information night in smaller groups, so they can communicate with parents and share information about the school. They can easily put lessons in as well, she added.

We will have “25 parents at a time, so we can show them this is what we expect, what we need and this is how it works and deadlines,” Blackman said.

Spiro said they will continue to use Lee Virtual in way of design, but will look at adding systems of support for students needing additional contact with teachers.

Those students who did LVS, LVS and face-to-face had a 30 percent proficiency in mathematics for quarter two and 40 percent for quarter three. The data showed that those students in LVS and then face-to-face, and face-to-face had a 29 percent proficiency for quarter two and 39 percent for quarter three.

Again Allevato said that students who had the ability to be with them in school showed the greatest growth overall.

“We are seeing areas of opportunity. Proficiency is still very low,” she said.

The board was then given data regarding state assessed courses, which included third grade and higher, compared to last year.

For ELA during the 2019-2020 school year 42 percent of students showed proficiency in quarter one, and 47 percent in quarter three compared to 40 percent proficiency for 2020-2021 in quarter one and 49 percent proficiency for quarter three.

Math for the 2019-2020 school year 46 percent of students showed proficiency for quarter one and 51 percent for quarter three compared to 27 percent for quarter one during 2020-2021 and 42 percent proficient for quarter three.

For science, 33 percent of students showed proficiency for quarter one during 2019-2020 and 55 percent proficient for quarter three compared to 38 percent for quarter one during 2020-2021 school year and 60 percent proficient for the third quarter.

In social studies 43 percent of students showed proficiency during quarter one in 2019-2020 and 69 percent showed proficiency for quarter three compared to 49 percent in quarter one during the 2020-2021 school year and 65 percent proficiency for quarter three.

“We started the year at quarter one down considerably in mathematics. In English Language Arts and science we are actually above where we were at this time last year. Students made that growth overtime. Proficiency still has opportunities, but showing great gains considering where we were,” Allevato said. “We were very happy and surprised. It shows our teachers continue to rise, our students continue to rise and families partner with us to help close the gaps.”

No group is performing anywhere were they would really expect them to be, she said. However, overall, the district level one students are moving at a much greater pace than they would see, and most of those students were in the in school classroom model.

Elementary Teaching and Learning Director Dr. Bethany Quisenberry said for those students in kindergarten, first and second grade starting in LHC, they scored very high and then did not show an adequate data point for academics when they came face-to-face.

“When we started digging in, we put in multiple measures to ensure students are being monitored, but it was pretty evident with youngest kids they were not completing it independently,” she said.

Digital learning

The meeting then changed gears and brought attention to the positive pieces that came out of distance learning, which were the digital tools.

Quisenberry said one of the big pieces was Google Classrooms, which was required for all classrooms. All administrators had access to Google Classrooms, allowing them to push out communications and monitor firsthand assignments given and different pieces that were taking place. The district also was able to get out resources and communication through Google Classrooms, which would put an email in the teacher’s inbox, which ended up providing collaboration for teachers and schools.

Another plus was providing Chromebooks to students.

Before the pandemic, Quisenberry said there were Chromebooks in fourth and fifth grade and they were not assigned to students independently. In other grade levels there were a few Chromebooks utilized in centers.

Fast forward to the pandemic, students were provided with their own Chromebooks, which Quisenberry said was a great teacher tool to utilize for students. She said it is amazing how their youngest students have embraced the Chromebooks and are so well versed in digital tools.

Quisenberry said moving into the next school year, all elementary schools will have a one-on-one Chromebook for kindergarten through fifth grade students.

Another big piece of communication occurred through the Zoom platform, which has been utilized in schools for IEP, parent conferences and a great tool for families to engage with schools and classrooms without taking time off from work. It was another positive tool for teachers who wanted to participate in professional development as they had the opportunity to watch it at their leisure.

“They gain communication and training they need and not have to spend as much time on travel,” Quisenberry said.

Spiro said they are entering conversations of how to further use Zoom and other technologies to extend continued learning. The district is also having conversations around using Zoom for students who are absent, or on vacation, as they know parents are going to ask those questions.

“That is part of the conversation that we will have,” Spiro said. “People are comfortable with the technology tools. How can we use them outside of the school house?”

Another positive is student engagement through live investigations that elementary science pushed out this year, officials said. The live investigations are up to three sessions of a live lab investigation.

“They are so animated. The kids go back and forth and chat asking questions. We have close to 4,000 students logged in,” Quisenberry said. “We have 21,692 connections for live investigations, which we really believe is why our science scores are up.”

OverDrive, a digital library platform, was also very popular among the students. Last year, students accessed 17,040 books. This year that number increased to 470,819.

“That is an amazing amount of books that have been accessed by our students. All of our students now have digital access to all books in the library system as well. A piece we will continue to utilize in the future,” Quisenberry said.

Other opportunities that came to fruition this year was Connect with Lee, which provides students with the opportunity to connect with a live teacher during evening hours Monday through Thursday.

“At this time as of last week, we had 1,642 student family connections. We just started it the second week of March,” Quisenberry said of 781 elementary school student connections, 498 middle and 363 high school.

The majority of the connections stemmed around not understand homework, or an assignment.

Back on Track, a high school credit recovery program was also implemented, with 583 students actively accessing the program.