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Spring Data Shows More Students Underprepared For Grade-Level Work Than Years Past

Curriculum Associates’ analysis of spring 2021 Diagnostic assessment data reveals student proficiency rates in mathematics and reading are lower than historical averages

Curriculum Associates, developer of curriculum and assessments used by one-quarter of K–8 students across the United States, released an analysis of reading and mathematics testing data that measures student academic achievement in spring 2021. The report is the culmination of a year of reporting on how COVID-19 learning disruptions impacted academic progress.

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In the spring, 64 percent of students took the Diagnostic assessments inside of a school building—an increase from 28 percent in the fall. According to the analysis of students testing in school, fewer students are on grade level this spring compared with historical averages.

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“We are releasing this report because we feel a responsibility to provide educators with a clear, transparent view of where students are in relation to grade-level standards,” said Dr. Kristen Huff, vice president of assessment and research at Curriculum Associates. “This year teachers and students overcame a tremendous amount of disruption, but disparities that existed before the pandemic persist. Even fewer students are on grade level in schools in lower-income zip codes and in schools serving a majority of students of color than in schools serving mostly White students, and the gaps have increased from years past.”

Findings include the following:

  • The number of students performing at grade level increased since the beginning of the year, showing that students did make progress. However, unfinished learning is still greater than historical averages.
  • There is more unfinished learning in elementary school. For example:
    • 65 percent of Grade 3 students are on grade level in reading this spring versus 72 percent historically.
    • 50 percent of Grade 3 students are on grade level in math this spring versus 64 percent historically.
  • Unfinished learning is greater this spring for students in majority Black and Latino schools in both mathematics and reading. For example, Grade 3 students in schools with majority Black or Latino populations both saw a 10-point decrease in the percentage of students on grade level in reading, whereas their peers in majority-White schools only saw a five-point decrease.
  • Unfinished learning was greater for students in schools in lower-income zip codes in both mathematics and reading. For example, Grade 3 students in schools where the median income was less than $50,000 saw an eight-point decrease in the percentage of students on grade level in reading, whereas their peers in schools where the median income was more than $75,000 only saw a four-point decrease.

“Students and families—particularly those who were most impacted by the pandemic—have made a laudable effort to continue learning in unprecedented circumstances,” said Tyrone Holmes, chief inclusion officer at Curriculum Associates. “The pandemic has magnified the decades of historic, economic, and political practices that have kept students of color, students from disinvested communities, English Learners, and students with disabilities from reaching their potential. But we know that if teachers have the clearest picture of where students are, they will be best equipped to help students thrive when they return next school year.”

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