Damage control appears to have been the only reasonable goal for schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced teachers and students into unfamiliar and unconventional learning environments over the past two years.
School officials in Baldwin County Public Schools (BCPS) say local policymaking by their board of education made the difference for the system.
Elementary and secondary education staff presented preliminary 2020-21 test data to the Baldwin County Board of Education (BCBE) during its work session Tuesday, Nov. 16. Those reports showed scores across all grade levels outperforming state averages and experiencing lower rates of decline than elsewhere in Alabama.
Baldwin County Superintendent of Education Eddie Tyler said the results are a testament to BCBE’s policy decisions to keep on-campus instruction available through the bulk of the pandemic.
“It is better in Baldwin,” Tyler said. “To do what we’ve done through what we had to deal with and the attitudes of everyone, it’s tremendous. I’m very proud of everyone and our teachers, our boots on the ground.”
Tyler said despite gaps in learning and education losses, he believes the system will quickly rebound.
“We’re trying to get away from ‘woe is me’ because of COVID, and we’re back to our expectations for Baldwin County,” Rene Carter, dean of academics for BCPS, said.
But Carter said it is clear the pandemic and remote learning have created gaps in education among Baldwin County students.
ACT and state accountability test scores dropped for the 2020-21 school year, according to BCPS Secondary Education Coordinator Thomas Hartner. In most criteria, it was the first drop in scores in the last several years, in line with what most school systems statewide experienced. But there is a silver lining.
Baldwin County’s scores dropped less than the state in almost every subtest for both average score and benchmark percentage during the previous year as school systems nationwide struggled to respond to COVID-19.
“We dropped less than the state,” Hartner said. “I know that has a lot to do with the decision made [by BCBE] to keep our doors open.”
Five high schools increased their benchmark percentages in at least one subtest and two high schools even increased their average ACT scores in at least one category.
ACT composite score averages for Baldwin County students dropped from 19.2 during the 2019-20 school year to 18.4 in 2020-21. The school district averaged above 19 for the four years prior. This is compared to the full one-point hit in statewide composite scores, which decreased from 18.2 to 17.2.
Systemwide, 254 Baldwin County students scored 25 or higher on the ACT during the previous school year, or about 13 percent of those tested. Sixty-two students scored 30 or higher, or about 3 percent.
According to a five-year college readiness report using preliminary data, the percentage of Baldwin County high school students who met benchmarks in math dropped six percentage points to 20. The statewide average dropped from 19 to 14. ACT math scores also were heavily impacted, with score reductions from 18.6 to 17.9
School officials believe the implementation of the new K-12 math curriculum will help scores get back on an upward trend. Consulting teacher Scotty Kenan said the curriculum provides consistency in math teaching throughout grade levels, provides print and digital access to textbooks, implements intervention measures and even offers Spanish versions of materials.
English took the biggest hit among subtests, with Baldwin County’s benchmark average dropping five points to 48. Statewide, English scores dropped nine points to 36. The district’s average ACT English scores decreased from 18.9 to 17.9, while the state saw scores drop from 17.8 to 16.3.
Reading and science benchmark scoring only decreased by one percentage point in Baldwin County, from 33 to 32 and 25 to 24, respectively. Statewide scores in reading dropped three points to 25 and science scores dropped two points to 17.
Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program (ACAP) scoring for grades seven and eight show Baldwin County upper-middle school students above the statewide average in both English and math. The percentage of Baldwin County students considered proficient in English language arts (ELA) in seventh grade was 55 percent and in eighth grade, it was 64 percent. Both grades scored 12 points higher than statewide ELA proficiency averages.
Twenty-nine percent of Baldwin County seventh graders were considered proficient in math — this dropped to 23 percent among eighth-graders; statewide proficiency is 16 and 14 percent, respectively.
Eighth-grade proficiency in science was 54 percent — 15 percentage points higher than eighth-graders statewide.
In elementary education, school officials reported students in second through sixth grades scored above the statewide average in all categories by at least six percentage points.
In second grade, Baldwin County students scored nine points higher in ELA than the statewide average; third- and fourth-graders both scored 12 points higher; fifth-graders scored 14 points higher; and sixth-graders scored 15 points higher.
Math scores among second-graders in Baldwin County were 13 points above the state average; third-graders were 12 points above; fourth-graders were nine points above; fifth-graders were 11 percent above; and sixth-graders were 13 points above.
Fourth-grade science scores in Baldwin County placed 13 percentage points higher than the state average; sixth-grade scores placed 12 points higher.
“We’re really appreciative of the work that our students and teachers have done over the last couple of years, especially in light of COVID-19,” said Elementary Education Coordinator Kristin LaMotte. “But we’re Baldwin and we want to do better than be better than the state.”
LaMotte noted the ACAP tests are a moving target and are set to further develop over the next few years. No testing took place in 2020 due to school closures, making Spring 2021 the first time students had taken the assessment. Testing in Spring 2022 will already include changes to the test, including aligning the math portion completely to the state’s course of study. The ELA portion will now include field test items such as listening comprehension for grades two through eight, phonics for grades two and three and fluency for grades two through five. LaMotte said even more changes are expected in 2023.
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