Tuesday, April 13, 2021     Volume: 22, Issue: 6

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on March 31st, 2021, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 22, Issue 5 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 22, Issue 5

SMBSD seeks to address inequities between student groups

By Malea Martin

Mixteco-speaking and English learning students in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District are behind their peers in certain subjects, according to data presented at a recent school board meeting.

The data was introduced at a March 24 school board study session centered on equity, where board members and district officials discussed how they can work to close some of the gaps that exist between different student groups.

Superintendent Luke Ontiveros said at the meeting that COVID-19 presented unique challenges on top of the ones the district already faced before the pandemic.

“Systems-change work takes time,” he said. “And that’s been a hard thing to rationalize over the last year, because we’ve just been getting bombarded with developments that have been outside of our control, and having to take on skills that we’re developing on the fly.”

Santa Maria-Bonita School District students who speak English at home are outperforming their Mixecto- and Spanish-speaking peers, but the district hopes to change that with more investments in technology and multilingual resources. Pictured: In October 2020, the Parent Institute for Quality Education gave tablets to 20 SMBSD families to help them stay connected during the pandemic.

Data presented by SMBSD Coordinator of Assessment and Accountability Laurie Graack reveals that the number of junior high school students with two or more F’s increased substantially after distance learning was implemented. However, the number of F’s was already on the rise pre-pandemic.

“It’s important to note that the trend line has been increasing steadily for the last three years, from 2018-19 to now,” Graack said. “And in the 2019-20 year, the data was not impacted by COVID, as this is the first reporting card period in the fall of 2019, before COVID closures were even a concern.”

To look at the numbers through an “equity lens,” Graack said the district pulled the same data for English learner (EL) students to see if they were experiencing a disproportionate impact.  

“What we can see is that ELs follow the same trend line as all students, but they do not exceed, proportionately, the percentage of students in the group receiving two F’s or three F’s over time,” Graack said.

However, in other areas, EL students are falling behind. Graack presented RIT score data, which measures the level that a child is ready to learn at, and then compared that data to the national norm established by the Northwest Evaluation Association, an organization that many school districts use to assess their students. 

In reading, SMBSD kindergarten students are two points above the national norm. But every year after kindergarten, students are below the national average, and by eighth grade, they are 11 points below the norm.

When broken down by special programs, migrant students are struggling in reading, performing below the SMBSD average and the national average. When broken down by the language spoken at home, English students outperformed their Mixteco- and Spanish-speaking peers at every grade level, though the gap does get smaller by eighth grade.

A very similar picture emerges for math assessment data, with all students falling below the national average, but students who speak English at home outperform their peers.

The district has a little more than 3,000 students who speak English at home, more than 1,700 who speak Mixteco, and more than 10,400 who speak Spanish, Graack said. 

Looking ahead, the district plans to address these gaps through a Learning Mitigation and Acceleration Plan, which Director of Teaching and Learning Jennifer Loftus presented at the meeting. 

“We know that closing brick-and-mortar schools has had a disproportionately negative impact on students of color, and students of poverty,” Loftus said. “The educational inequities resulting in that disproportionate impact have further widened the learning gaps many of our students already have.” 

A long held belief in education was that pulling struggling students out of their classrooms for remediation and intervention was the best practice, but Loftus said modern systems are realizing that this only further isolates students and causes them to miss more grade-level instruction. 

The district plans to instead help those falling behind through 2021 summer school offerings, as well as more investment in the multilingual program, bilingual instructional assistants for primary grade students, English learner instructional coaches, Chromebooks and equal internet access for all, and translation services, to name a few. 

“We are really excited that the return of students to our campuses means that we’re going to be able to provide some in-person [summer] learning,” Loftus said. 

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