Catholic schools experience growth in learning during pandemic

Mason Hueston, a third-grader at St. Gabriel School, worked in the classroom Nov. 9. MAP Growth testing showed that St. Gabriel students were among those in the Archdiocese of Louisville who made progress in math and language arts over the past few months. (Photo Special to The Record)

Results from the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) Growth tests, administered in the Archdiocese of Louisville, showed that not even the uncertainty and changes brought about by the pandemic stopped Catholic school students from learning and making progress this year, according to school leaders.

Tosh Scheps — who serves as the curriculum and instruction coordinator for the Catholic Schools Office — said when schools across the archdiocese and the country pivoted to virtual learning in the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers began estimating what the academic impact could be. The predictions weren’t encouraging.

The fear was, “time away from school and peers would coalesce into students losing ground academically,” said Scheps during a recent interview.

Scheps said he’s pleased to say those predictions didn’t come true for students in the archdiocese — despite eight weeks of remote learning.

“We could see pretty clearly that schools were really pushing students between winter and fall in math and reading,” said Scheps.

MAP Growth, an assessment given to third- through eighth-graders in the archdiocese, showed overall archdiocesan math scores in the 73rd percentile and reading scores in the 88th percentile following testing at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, Scheps said. This is compared to last winter’s scores which placed math scores in the 67th percentile and reading scores in the 79th percentile. Scheps noted that the archdiocesan percentile is based on national trends and is not comparable to a student’s individual percentile because they are measured on different scales. (Parents shouldn’t compare their child’s percentile to this figure.) On average, the national trend for math and reading is the 50th percentile.

Scheps said MAP Growth doesn’t typically expect the percentile to change.

“When we looked at data that said our students had grown … even in a normal year we’d be celebrating that news. The fact that they did so on top of a pandemic is remarkable,” said Scheps.

He can’t say with certainty why this growth happened because the reasons would differ from school to school, he noted. This growth was seen in schools throughout the archdiocese.

“This really speaks to the teachers’ ability to create lessons in a completely different environment and platform; parents’ willingness to make sure children were working and students’ level of self-discipline,” said Scheps. “We’re incredibly excited to get that data confirmation of how wonderful our schools are.”

MAP tests are administered on computers and the assessment questions adapt individually to each student, depending on their answers. The results can help teachers tailor their instruction for each student.

Among those who showed progress on MAP testing were St. Gabriel School students. They returned to the classroom Aug. 20.

Lara Krill, St. Gabriel’s principal, said the school saw “significant” growth from fifth-, sixth- and eighth-graders in math and language arts. There was growth in language arts across all grade levels as well, she said.

“We have an amazing staff who is very dedicated. They put in countless numbers of hours to help students succeed virtually,” said Krill.

She noted that St. Gabriel’s teachers have been pleased with using MAP Growth to test students and that they are using the scores to “inform instruction.”

“MAP testing is three times a year, so we can observe growth and they can make adjustments,” said Krill. St. Gabriel teachers use the result of MAP testing to personalize learning for students. For example, she said, the math testing results have helped teachers to group students according to similar abilities and focus on more “targeted instruction.”

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