Field: Science ‘dramatically affected’ by the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on science, district officials say.

Many students missed lab experiences in 2020 as sixth graders as the pandemic began here, when they went out for four months of distance learning for two units of study. Vice Superintendent Dr. Jill Correnti told Board members during their regular meeting held Oct. 17 at New Canaan High School.

Those units in ecosystems and earth science “are really critical,” Correnti said during a presentation on the K-8 grades.

They were in a hybrid environment and then, as you recall, we had half-day Wednesdays,” she said. “So we had to make some decisions with our science curriculum and you may remember that I talked about this last year and some of the changes we made were in the climate department and the changes we made were because we know they would have received this information again as ninth graders. So we had to make a decision from a curriculum point of view, and we knew that they affected two units in the sixth form. We do our best to fill those gaps, but in science, when you go to sixth form, it’s also a change in standards.”

New Canaan Public Schools doesn’t “teach to the tests,” Correnti said, referring to the grades, so two years later, when the district saw the eighth-grade science class results, “they weren’t surprising to us.”

Meets or exceeds achievement

2019 2021 2022
5th grade 88% 88% 84.9%
8th grade 84% 81% 75.2%

Source: New Canaan Public Schools

Correnti said “the ultimate goal of assessment is to support and improve student learning.” Although the assessments are used for instruction, “we are very cautious when looking at our annual state tests,” she said.

“It’s not meant to be the only measure of our students’ achievement,” Correnti said.

“And I think it’s always important to remember that we never ‘teach to the test.’ We use our curriculum. We have standards in our curriculum. We have assessments that determine whether we meet these standards. And we have a wide range of assessments, from area assessments to portfolio writing to observations to universal screenings. A lot of variety.”

Assessment tests are typically administered after April vacation and last about five days, Correnti said. She reviewed state assessments, such as the Smarter Balanced Assessment, the Next Generation Science Standards (or “NGSS”), and the SAT, detailing each type of assessment, reviewing how they are structured and scored, what it tests for, how scores are reported, and how the district tracks whether students grow up

Referring to the NGSS, Correnti said, “So we dived into eighth grade, and certainly when you dive deep into that data in eighth grade, the targets where we didn’t do well were climate, ecosystems, and space,” he said Currents. “So we know they’re going to pick this up as ninth graders when we move on to geophysics.”

She added: “This is just an example of how we don’t ‘teach to the test’ that we have to make decisions about the curriculum. You make curriculum decisions based on this vertical alignment of what we know is best for kids, and those were decisions we made, not trying to cram everything in, but trying to develop the concepts in depth , so we have time to do it.

However, New Canaan’s fifth-graders performed very well within the District Reference Group, or DRG, “and continue to do well,” Correnti said, while the eighth-graders finished third in the DRG:

Next Generation Science Standards

5th grade 8th grade
Wilton 70.7% 82.9%
Weston 83.4% 78.7%
New Canaan 84.9% 75.2%
Darien 83.6% 73.3%
Westport 78.3% 72.4%
Ridgefield 81.8% 67.5%
Reading 75.5% *
Easton 72.7% *

Source: New Canaan Public Schools
*Data has been suppressed to ensure privacy

The district also saw strong student results on the English Language Arts portion of the Smart Balanced Assessment (third through eighth graders), with 84.1 percent meeting or exceeding their achievement level, a figure that is more in line with the recent pre-pandemic years.

English DRG Comparison Meets or Exceeds Achievement Level

area Overall results
Level 3 or 4
New Canaan 84.1%
Darien 80.8%
Weston 79.2%
Westport 78.9%
Ridgefield 78.7%
Wilton 78.2%
Easton 77.1%
Reading 73.8%

Source: New Canaan Public Schools

Board of Education members asked Correnti if the BOE could do more in terms of staffing to address the challenges of COVID (additional reading and math specialists would likely be most helpful, although they are very hard to find), how many maths there are NCPS per school (one FTE in each primary school and two maths specialists in Saxe), do these maths specialists pull students who need more help or those who need special attention to be challenged (first as well as teacher educators), how elementary teachers deal with the multiple levels of students in a class (teachers know, based in part on grades, exactly what each child needs to move up a level), whether -smart balanced assessments mimic the SAT (the SAT is aligned with the Common Core and has some similarities, although the SAT is purely multiple choice, not open-ended), whether district that urges students to be tested on Smarter Balanced beyond their grade level (not for that test, according to state requirements, although in the Northwest Evaluation Association Assessment students can), how teachers are managing the COVID-related gaps in student knowledge that receive (in different ways, and teachers can differentiate instruction based on standards not only for their own grade level, but those that came before and those that follow), whether fifth- and ninth-grade teachers find their incoming students prepared (yes ) and whether the district is tracking growth goals over time (yes, this is planned).

Board of Ed member Erika Schwedel asked if, in terms of the hands-on lab work that some students didn’t get because of distance learning, would they get that experience later or be taught later to pick up on what was lost.

Correnti said, “The lab work that they do is always related to their curriculum, but I have to say that last year with our fifth graders in particular, we spent a lot of time teaching them about lab procedures because in fourth grade they had all individual materials. They did it individually, they didn’t work with partners, they didn’t collaborate, they didn’t have these conversations because that’s what fourth grade looked like to them. So when they got to fifth grade, a lot of those skills that they might have learned, we had to reteach them.

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