The upcoming distribution of federal money coming through the American Relief Act of 2021 will address the academic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on students, but the Park City School District isn't waiting around for those funds to take stock of student growth.
Utah schools have had a two-year hiatus in achievement testing. Pandemic-caused shutdowns last year eliminated the end-of-year achievement testing across the state. The state board of education also invalidated all 2019 assessment test results due to system problems.
Park City School District Chief Academic Officer Amy Hunt said juniors have already taken the state-approved ACT exam this year. They've run a pilot on the rest of the computerized tests, and Hunt said they're ready to implement them throughout the district.
Hunt acknowledged that assessment testing is controversial and that it isn't the only measure of a student's success. Teachers say it takes away from teaching or that they must tailor instruction to the test. Sometimes it pits school districts against each other. She said it's essential to have different ways to measure learning.
"Assessment for learning looks like those things that we do along the way to determine whether or not our students are being successful with the information they're learning at that moment, and the assessment of learning helps us to be able to see over time,” she said. “Are students able to retain the things that they're learning? Are they learning them deeply enough that a year from now, they still remember those concepts and can apply them in their, you know, progression of learning? So, I think they're all important."
When they held testing this fall, they could see problems with some younger students learning to read and work with numbers. Hunt said they pushed added support into classrooms and focused on things they knew had been missed last spring when schools shut down.
"I was really delighted to see that our kids are back at the level that they typically are for the middle of the year,” she said. “When we look at our cohort data over time, what that speaks to me is to the resiliency of our students, and even more to the talent and ability of our teachers to be able to take kids not only, and help them grow as they normally do. but to take them from a place of deficit, and pull them to where they typically are at this time of the year is, is really quite tremendous."
Some of the most experienced teachers take on an interventionist role. Hunt said they do a lot of preplanning, which can help those behind and kids who need more challenges.
"They are working both with students who need tier two and three support, they're a year behind in school or greater,” she said. “But they also are working with our teachers in their professional learning communities, and talking about how to take that first lesson, when we're introducing concepts or supporting concepts for students, and make it very accessible for students in the room."
Hunt said the data indicates that the remote learners are at the same level as those in person. She explained English Language Learners have more challenges accessing resources. They'll fund a summer school program to target students who need additional support.
"We are going to utilize some SR (Student Relief) funds,” she said. “SR is the money that is already in place that has been provided down through the federal government into the state to deal with students that are at risk or that have experienced struggle during COVID-19."
Hunt isn't sure yet what the next round of funding will allow but hopes it will help offset COVID-related expenses like supplies and air filters to make the schools safer. Each school site has an outreach coordinator to help families access the internet, and other supplies families need for student success.
Traditional AP testing will happen, but with COVID distancing measures in place. The district hopes to have assessment test scores in before school starts in the fall.