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BOE Hears District Assessments Report



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In delivering recent testing data to the Board of Education at its virtual January 5 meeting, Newtown Director of Teaching & Learning Frank Purcaro pointed out results offer a reason to be “cautiously optimistic” while students may still be struggling day to day.

Purcaro’s presentation included data compiled from the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT), and Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), along with recent failing grade information.

“Tonight I will be presenting the most recent assessment data pertaining to the fall NWEA results as well as the PSAT and SAT results,” Purcaro said.

Due to the pandemic, Purcaro reflected this is the first “large scale data” the district has been able to collect in roughly a year, “which is unbelievable.

“We were really anxious to get this information,” Purcaro said.

Before sharing the data overview, Purcaro said that when looking at the early testing results from a district perspective “we do have reason to be... cautiously optimistic” in terms of detecting any widespread learning loss or major gaps in learning across grade levels. He added that it is still important to analyze data further for specific insights into how students are faring.

“In many ways this is a starting point as we continue to dig deeper,” Purcaro said, “but certainly an encouraging starting point to begin with.”

For the NWEA results, Purcaro said they were being looked at using the test’s “RIT” scale, by proficiency results, and for student growth between 2019 and 2020.

The NWEA testing window occurred from November 2 through December 10, according to the presentation, and students were tested by the district’s all-in model and in its hybrid model, with roughly 10 to 20 percent of testing administered remotely. With remote testing, Purcaro shared an emphasis was placed on communication between home caregivers, the test proctor, and the student.

Comparing fall 2019 and fall 2020 scores, the presentation shared some grades had overall decreases in student achievement on the NWEA math portion — like grades three, five, and eight — while grades four, six, and seven had increases. Purcaro said the decreases are “nominal.” For NWEA reading results there were increases at each grade level, second through eighth.

According to the NWEA projected proficiency, Purcaro pointed out for math, 63.1 percent of students were projected to be at proficiency levels on Smarter Balanced assessments for 2019 while 2020 students tested at a projected 62.8 percent.

“Slightly lower... but really not a major decrease, not a huge statistical difference when looking at it,” said Purcaro.

For reading, the same NWEA proficiency markers projected 67.7 percent of students were at the proficiency level in 2019 while 75.9 percent were at that level for 2020.

In terms of NWEA student growth, which compares the same groups of students taking the test from one year to the next rather than the different grade levels, student growth for math was close to or met expected growth levels, with the exception of students moving from second to third grade, who had a lower growth than predicted. For reading, the same measurement had almost all grades improving more than anticipated, except for students in seventh grade, who tested slightly lower than predicted.

Next steps determined based on the NWEA results, Purcaro shared, include continued work with math specialists, reading specialists, and classroom teachers to identify specific skills that need to be addressed; providing additional support where needed; closely monitoring and supporting full-time distance learners; and closely reviewing performance of students piloting new math resources.

For the PSAT and SAT exams, Purcaro explained students in eleventh grade take the PSAT in October each year then take the SAT in March. The 2020 March SAT was postponed and administered to students in twelfth grade in October, due to the pandemic.

For English language arts (ELA) scores, students in 2018-19 scored on average .8 points higher on the SAT over the PSAT, the 2019-20 scored 1 point lower on the SAT compared to the PSAT score, and this year’s PSAT results were four points lower than both previous PSAT results on average.

For math scores, the 2018-19 SAT results improved 6.8 points from the PSAT, 2019-20 improved by 3 points, and the 2020-21 students tested 5 points lower than the previous year on the PSAT and 8 points lower than the 2018-19 students.

Purcaro said Newtown High School Principal Dr Kimberly Longobucco speculated the latest lower scores could be a reflection that the group of students in question were interrupted by distance learning as sophomores while they were in the middle of learning Algebra II lessons.

In addition to testing results, Purcaro also shared the most recent grade results for students in fifth through twelfth grade, specifically offering the percentage of students failing in the first marking period of this school year. Comparing last year to this year, Purcaro said there is an increase and the increase gets larger in the upper grade levels.

“Quite frankly, overall as we do go up in grade level, for some students the engagement online... a large portion of those students with the failing grades are students who are disengaged and that disengagement does seem to increase with grade level,” he reflected.

Even though students did well overall on assessments, Purcaro said students are struggling in the hybrid and remote environments “with day to day assessments and assignments, and that shows in the failing grade report.”

Highlighting the failing grade report, Purcaro pointed out students in grades seven to twelve have only experienced hybrid or fully remote learning environments in the time of the report and on-screen learning is significantly different in terms of mindset than in-person learning.

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