A student with mask on the face sitting at a table with a laptop at River Oaks Baptist School

Learning Progress During COVID-19

January 29, 2021 | By: Todd Herauf, Ed.D., Associate Head of School for Academics

Is my child on track? How do you know? How much did the shutdown exacerbate learning loss?

Questions like these dominated our discussions with parents during the mandatory school shutdown last spring and even through the beginning of this school year. The questions are valid. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics advocated for reopening schools, citing well-documented evidence on the importance of in-person learning. As schools across the country grapple with the short- and long-term impact of COVID-19 on learning, I want to give an update on how our students at ROBS are performing.

The short version is that our students are doing great. Assessments conducted early in the year showed little to no learning loss, indicating ROBS’ rapid pivot to remote instruction in the spring kept our kids moving in the right direction. Ongoing assessments since the start of school confirm our students are currently meeting or exceeding expectations across the board. For the longer version, keep reading!

Student Assessments

We use a variety of methods to track progress, with a graduated approach to structured tests like the ERB in upper grades. Objective data from nationally normed tests can be helpful in gauging progress against grade-level standards. The test is a pulse check—one of many tools we use to tweak curriculum and layer in skill practice as needed. Please note: standardized testing is NOT helpful in measuring intelligence nor does it determine student success. In other words, we use tests like the ERB to evaluate our performance as educators, not to evaluate our students.

Standardized testing prior to Middle School is designed to give kids exposure to the format but research tells us that children’s brains are simply not ready for these tests until early adolescence. You’ll see assessments in Preschool and Lower School reflect this approach.

ROBS Results

Results from an abbreviated ERB test called the Milestone in grades 5-7* showed our students outperformed the national norm in reading and math (only subjects tested). This means our students are ahead of where they should be at this point, even in a normal year. Mean scale math scores in sixth and seventh grades were in the highest bracket of “exceeds expectations,” as was the fifth grade mean scale score in reading.

Assessments across Lower School grades have been conducted in-house up to this point. That means teachers and learning specialists use a standard rubric to evaluate each student’s knowledge and skill base. Early on the students exhibited a slight lag in writing—an area more prone to atrophy without attention. Periodic reassessments since then show all Lower School grades are currently performing as well or better than ROBS students at their grade level in a normal year.

Even our Prekindergarteners are performing above grade-level standards. Nearly all students are exhibiting early literacy skills like syllable blends, rhyming, and phonemic awareness beyond the PreK benchmark. And 86 percent are showing math skills that correspond with national norms for early kindergarten.

What’s Next

Ongoing academic assessments will continue to guide our approach. They will also give us a more comprehensive view of cumulative progress. Based on results to date, we are optimistic about reinstating the added instruction days in May to the holiday calendar, and we will make a preliminary determination by spring break.

A Team Effort

The demonstrated progress speaks to the value of our academic program (even if it’s virtual), but in-person learning will always be the gold standard. Tests like the ERB cannot fully measure the social, emotional, physical, and spiritual growth fundamental to a holistic educational program. The resilience of our students, the creativity and adaptability of our faculty, the support of dedicated and engaged parents – these are the ingredients for student success. And we have those in spades!

*ERB’s Milestone assessments culminate in the ERB Comprehensive Testing Program (CTP) administered in late spring. Because of the timing in relation to high school acceptances, ROBS eighth graders do not take the CTP and therefore did not participate in the Milestone test.

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