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'We are failing these young people': Data shows thousands of Lynchburg City Schools students performing below grade level
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'We are failing these young people': Data shows thousands of Lynchburg City Schools students performing below grade level

Thousands of Lynchburg City Schools students are performing below grade level in some subjects.

LCS administrators reported data from various assessments at Tuesday’s school board work session, showing a picture of the “current reality” in the division following the first quarter of the school year.

“... This is kind of like giving you the ‘before’ picture before there is an ‘after’ picture,” said Allison Jordan, director of curriculum and instruction.

State growth assessments for students in grades three through five show 54% are “below level” or “approaching” in reading, and 79% fall into those same categories for math. Jordan said “below level” represents students who are one or more grade levels behind, and “approaching” represents students who are in need of at least some remediation.

With 1,561 students tested in those grades, this reflects around 843 students behind in reading and 1,233 behind in math.

Middle schools in the division are seeing more regression in math than in reading among their students, Jordan said.

While the majority — 55% — of sixth through eighth graders currently are on or above grade level for reading, data shows 78%, or roughly 1,162 students, in those grades are behind in math.

“This is not easy data to present,” Jordan said. “We are seeing huge gaps in learning loss.”

Data from the PALS (Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening) assessment shows a high percentage of early elementary students in LCS were identified as needing access to Title 1 resources to learn fundamental literacy skills. Over time, the division has seen an increase in the percentage of students identified by this assessment during the past two pandemic years. In fall 2019, for example, 16% of first graders were identified. This fall, 46% of first graders were identified.

Jordan said the division has implemented a new K-5 literacy program focused on providing intensive intervention for students who still need to master the fundamental concepts of reading.

HMH Reading Assessment data — collected by LCS through an outside vendor to be used as a growth measure — shows some secondary students are not on grade level in reading.

Nearly 47% of sixth through 12th graders, or roughly 1,339 students, in the division are performing below level in reading, according to that data. More than 59% of the 422 sixth graders assessed performed below level. However, fewer upperclassmen are below level in reading, with 63.6% of juniors and 68.2% of seniors performing on or above grade level.

The division is conducting more frequent testing this year in order to get a view of where students currently are, rather than only having data from assessments at the end of the year. This data will allow the division to immediately begin assessing skill deficiencies and student growth.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the past two school years and continues to affect student learning — board member Robert Brennan described the pandemic as a “nuclear bomb for education in this country.” Administrators said much of the regression can be attributed to the pandemic.

Jordan said the division is implementing interventions, such as tutoring and remediation, immediately for students who are struggling.

“We are doing everything within our power — and probably beyond our power — to make a difference,” she said.

Board member Randy Trost said he was “horrified” by the data.

“Whatever we’re doing is obviously not working, so we need to change what we’re doing,” he said. “... It’s not working and we are failing these young people, and that breaks my heart.”

LCS Superintendent Crystal Edwards said this data is a “reality check” for administrators, teachers and staff.

“I knew this was going to be a rough presentation, but I said, ‘We’re going to do it anyhow,’ because our community needs to see where are our children in the middle of this pandemic,” Edwards said.

Edwards said she worries the division may be “over-assessing,” but sees the value in understanding where students are and where they need to grow during the school year, as opposed to an assessment at its end.

Jordan said this data is helping division administrators and teachers understand the current reality of their students, and while they are celebrating the recovery that has happened in the first quarter of the school year, there’s still a long way to go for many students.

“This is where we are,” Jordan said. “And we have to get better at getting better.”

Administrators are set to bring this snapshot data to the board and public following each quarter of the school year.

In other school board news:

The Lynchburg City School Board approved, in a 7-2 vote Tuesday, to adjust the 2021-22 school year calendar to make six days early dismissal days, rather than regular school days, in order to give teachers additional time for planning. Similar moves have been made in divisions in the area and across the state.

The early dismissal days are set for Nov. 10, Nov. 17, Dec. 1, Dec. 8, Jan. 5 and Jan 12. All are Wednesdays.

The vote also changed Nov. 2 from a professional development day to a staff workday, and made Dec. 17 an early dismissal day for staff and students. Originally, that day was an early dismissal day for students only.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 3.

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Education reporter

Cross covers K-12 and higher education for The News & Advance. An Asheboro, North Carolina native, Cross joined The News & Advance team in January 2020 after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism.

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