St. Louis students are underperforming so far in reading and math in every grade

By Ralph Echtinaw

St. Louis students in all grades are falling short of the district’s goal for improvement in reading and math.

Superintendent Jennifer McKittrick told the school board Monday that she’d like to have 80 percent of students at or above their projected growth with no special help by the end of the school year.

But the percentage of students meeting or exceeding improvement goals to date is 43.5 percent in reading and 39.9 percent in math.

“It is not atypical for our students to show less growth mid-year than at the end of the year,” McKittrick said via email. “Especially with our students being quarantined for the last few years. Our goal is 80 percent of the students by the end of year will meet or exceed their expected growth. We have met that goal by the end of the year for the last few years.”

To break it down by grade level, the worst performing students in reading are fifth graders at 32 percent. On the math side the worst performing students are third graders at 24 percent.

The best performing students are in ninth grade for reading (72 percent) and second grade for math (61 percent).

The academic assessments used in St. Louis schools were created by the Northwest Evaluation Association, a research-based not-for-profit organization. NWEA assessments are used by over 9,500 schools and districts in 145 countries.

St. Louis schools use the assessments in the beginning, middle and end of each school year year to evaluate students.

Kids who need help reaching these goals get special attention. The first step is “small group instruction and intervention to assist students in closing the learning gap,” McKittrick said. That encompasses 15-20 percent of the student body.

Step two is an Individual Education Plan “IEP is for students who qualify for special education,” McKittrick said. “The IEP will list out the goals for the student and the accommodations they shall receive in the classroom,” including additional time on test, tests read aloud and reduced assignments. Just 5 percent of St. Louis students fall into this category.

Spending federal money

The district is in the process of deciding how to spend more than $2 million it received from the federal government’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief program (ESSER).

Some of it will be used to give bonuses to employees on March 25. McKittrick told the school board that teachers and administrators will get $1,500, central office staff get $1,000 and support staff get $750.

Other ESSER spending includes:

Voluntary summer school with teachers, parapros, transportation, meals and materials.

An after-school program for students who need extra help.

Two full-time substitute teachers.

Installation of bipolar ionization units in all buildings to improve air quality.

New windows, hand dryers and some exterior doors.

ESSER funds will also pay for the continued use of software called GoGuardian that is loaded on each student’s school-provided Chromebook and lets administrators (but not teachers) block or filter a student’s internet access and send up a red flag if a student searches for “a topic that is either inappropriate and/or harmful,” McKittrick said.

“We are required by law to have protection measures that block or filter students’ internet access,” McKittrick said. “This falls under the Children’s Internet Protection Act.  The platform, along with the district’s computer network, allows administrators to monitor online activities of minors and blocks websites that are not educational in nature. In the event a student is searching for a topic that is either inappropriate and/or harmful the site will get flagged and sent to the building administrator.”

Nationally, more than $189 billion were appropriated to the ESSER Fund under the three COVID-19 relief/stimulus packages passed by Congress: the CARES Act (ESSER I), the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act (ESSER II), and the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act (ESSER III).

Special board meeting

The school board scheduled a special meeting for 7 p.m. Thursday, April 7, to approve capital improvement projects from the bond proposal passed by voters last year.

Sixth grade camp

The board approved $1,000 to pay for this year’s sixth grade camp. “Every year we take our sixth graders to an overnight camp, sponsored by our teachers,” McKittrick said. “They do fun activities together at camp. This year we are going to The Springs.”

Business Professionals of America

Some 25 St. Louis High School students are expected to attend the BPA program in Grand Rapids on March 10-13.  The school board approved a May 4-8 trip to Dallas, Texas for nationals.

Wrestling team

The St. Louis wrestling team is in the state tournament Friday after winning the regional tournament.

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