My Goal: Recover COVID learning losses and substantially improve student achievement results.

Background


We all want to believe our children are being offered the best education possible. For years Jeffco School District has been telling us how well they are doing by comparing Jeffco achievement numbers to other districts and the whole state of Colorado.

But the reality is our children won’t be competing for jobs only in Colorado or only against other Coloradans. They will be competing on a national and international level. When the District compares Jeffco to the whole state of Colorado, we were given a false sense of security. The real comparison is how Jeffco students compare to students in other states such as Massachusetts or Virginia, and countries such as Canada and Switzerland.

We have a persistent achievement problem in Jeffco schools that is growing worse, and has a serious negative impact on our children’s ability to thrive in the 21st century economy.

In 2019, before COVID arrived, 54% of Jeffco 3rd graders failed to meet the state standard for reading proficiency. 65% of 6th graders failed to meet the math standard. And 62% of 8th graders failed to meet the science standard.

And while our achievement results for students eligible for free and reduced lunch (FRL) are indeed atrocious, we cannot blame Jeffco's achievement problem on poverty, however much some people would like to do so.

In 2019, 75% of FRL 3rd graders failed to meet the state reading standard, 85% of FRL 6th graders failed to meet the state math standard, and 84% of FRL 8th graders failed to meet the state science standard.

If you're not serious about dramatically improving these results, you're not serious about equity.

But in 2019, 44% of non-FRL 3rd graders also failed to meet state reading proficiency standard, 55% of 6th graders failed to meet the state math standard, and 53% of 8th graders failed to meet the state science standard.

Between 2017 (when Colorado switched from the ACT to the SAT) and 2019, the scores of Jeffco 11th graders fell on both the Evidence Based Reading and Writing and the Math assessments.

I've summed up Jeffco's declining achievement trends in this presentation.

In this presentation, I evaluated the different options for recovering students' COVID learning losses, based on their effect sizes.

I've also prepared a very detailed analysis of school-by-school achievement proficiency and achievement growth results for each of the district's 17 articulation areas.

The last measure we have of the effectiveness of the education Jeffco provides our students is their performance on the Grade 11 SAT, which every student in Colorado must take. The following table shows the percentage of students at each of our 17 Articulation Area high schools who met the SAT's College and Career Ready standard on both Evidence Based Reading and Writing and Math.

Make no mistake about where I stand: These are extremely unimpressive and completely unacceptable results.

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Since we moved to Jeffco from Calgary in 2010, the state of Colorado has shifted from CSAP to TCAP to CMAS for the purpose of conducing its annual assessment of student achievement results. Regardless of the test used, however, for the past 12 years we have seen a pattern of continued decline, even as the bar for what it takes to thrive in the 21st century economy has continued to rise.

The last time Jeffco experienced significant gains in student achievement was more than 20 years ago, when Jane Hammond was the district's Superintendent.

Make no mistake. We are failing to prepare our children to thrive in the 21st century economy.


Jeffco's Continued Achievement Decline has Many Deeply Rooted Causes

Since Colorado's school accountability law was enacted in 2010, every school district has been required to prepare a "Uniform Improvement Plan", which is modeled on the performance improvement method that has been successfully used in the private sector and elsewhere in the public sector for more than 50 years to substantially improve results.

The method can be described as follows:

  • Compare your actual results to your goals.
  • If your actual results are below your goals, identify the root causes of the shortfall.
  • Root Cause analysis essentially involves systematically asking "why" to go beyond the symptoms of a problem to dig down to the underlying root causes (that's why root cause analysis is often called the "5 Whys" technique).
  • Once you have identified the true root causes of the performance shortfall, design improvement plans to address them.
  • Rigorously implement those plans.
  • Then once again compare results to your goals.
  • Repeat this process until your goals have been achieved.
  • Then set more aggressive goals.

Here is a list of all the Root Causes for Jeffco's poor achievement performance that have been identified by the District Accountability Committee in the Unified Improvement Plans it has prepared since 2010.

The fact the same Root Causes keep repeating suggests that either (a) the true root causes have not been identified; (b) people know what they are, but nobody wants to talk about them; (c) the wrong improvement plans have been chose to address the identified root causes; and/or (d) the right improvement plans were chosen, but they were poorly implemented.

Two other outside analyses shed some light on these issues. In 2017, the consulting firm Deliver-Ed presented
this analysis to then Superintendent Jason Glass and the Board. It highlighted many issues that had never made it onto the UIPs' lists of Root Causes.

In 2021, Superintendent Tracy Dorland commissioned Jaime Aquino (now the Superintendent of San Antonio schools) to perform
an independent analysis of Jeffco's declining student achievement performance. As was the case with Deliver-Ed, Aquino identified a set of interacting Root Causes — including the district's processes, systems, structure, staff, and culture — that had never appeared in 11 years of Jeffco Unified Improvement Plans.


Once They Have Fallen Behind, Catching Students Back Up to Proficiency is Very Hard

In "Catching Up to College and Career Readiness", ACT Inc. analyzed the percentage of 4th graders who had fallen behind that catch up to proficiency by 8th grade, and the percent of 8th graders who had fallen behind who catch up to College and Career Readiness (on the ACT tests) by 12th grade.

Of the 4th graders who were "off track" in reading (defined as less than one standard deviation below the cut score for proficiency), 37% caught up by 8th grade. But among the student who were "far off track" (more than one standard deviation below proficiency), only 10% caught up by 8th grade.

In math, the comparable percentages were 46% and 10%.

The ACT report makes it clear that catching up is harder for older students.

Among 8th graders who were "off track" in reading, only 29% caught up to College and Career Ready by 12th grade. And for those who were "far off track", only 10% caught up.

For math, the comparable percentages were 19% and 3%.

Historically, Jeffco has done a poor job of catching students back up to proficiency once they have fallen behind.

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A more recent analysis published the Thomas B. Fordham Institute used Jeffco specific data to conclude that recovering the district's COVID learning losses using individual and small group tutoring interventions (i.e., MTSS Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions) would cost about $22 million/year for at least five years.

This is very close to the conclusion reached by Georgetown University's Edunomics Lab in their analysis of
what it would cost to recover Jeffco's COVID learning losses.

Unfortunately, the district's 2022/2023 budget (which I voted against) allocates only $11 million — over three years — for tutoring to recover students' learning losses.

In my view, this is woefully insufficient to meet the challenge we face and completely unfair to our children and their future.