At their regular monthly meeting, Milford School District Board of Education heard information from district staff regarding student progress over the first two marking periods. The information was presented after a request was made at a previous meeting to determine how students were succeeding in the district with hybrid and virtual learning.
Jen Hallman, Principal at Evelyn I. Morris Early Childhood Center explained that 96 percent of students were on track for promotion to the next grade with only four percent at risk of retention. According to Hallman, over 70 percent of those at risk for retention or who had been referred to the Student Support Team were virtual learners who had not been inside the school all year. Only five students had been referred to the Student Support Team.
“We have made it a point to offer placements and hybrid programming for all of the students on the list and have continued to make sure families of students learning at home are aware that, at any time, they can make the transition to bring their child into the school for in-person learning,” Hallman said. “Additionally, it should be noted that we usually don’t look at these numbers until the third marking period because, for some reason, they make a lot of growth when the flowers come on, so we may see some growth again during the third marking period.”
School Board President Jason Miller asked how the numbers compared to non-pandemic years and Hallman stated that she felt they were about on par with previous school years. She did express concern about children who had never stepped foot in the building and hoped that they would be able to work with those students in person before the end of the school year.
Lisa Alfaro, Principal at Benjamin Banneker Elementary reported that between 88 and 98 percent of the students at Banneker were on track for promotion with third grade showing the highest number, 12 percent, at risk for retention and second grade with the highest percentage, 30 percent, referred to the Student Support Team.
“Our biggest indicator is student attendance concerns,” Alfaro said. “We have found that to be the case in a lot of families. Of the 44 students that we are looking at, nine of those families have two, three, even four kids. A lot of these attendance concerns, it is not the child’s fault. It is the parents. Tech has been wonderful working with them if they are remote students. However, we also have attendance issues with students who come into the building.” Alfaro agreed with Hallman that it was difficult to compare the numbers with pre-pandemic data because the schools usually waited until the third marking period to review the information.
Mispillion Elementary showed between 90 and 97 percent of students were on track for promotion. Like Banneker, Mispillion’s third grade had the highest risk of retention at 10 percent while fifth grade had the highest percentage referred to the Student Support Team at 24 percent.
“Students may be referred to the Student Support Team because of attendance issues, non-completion of work or other reasons,” Teresa Wallace, Principal, said. “We are working with our interventionist and with our English learner interventionist. They help families with technology resources, anything the family needs. We are seeing improvement with those efforts and we are having more parents calling about their children returning to the classroom.”
Lulu M. Ross Principal Cindy McKenzie also pointed out that they don’t usually look at this data until the third marking period. Ross currently has between 88 and 98 percent of students on track for promotion However, it is second grade that has the highest percentage of students at risk for promotion at 12 percent and fifth grade has the highest percentage of students referred to the Student Support Team at nine percent.
“Our numbers are significantly higher than our first two marking periods,” McKenzie said. “We’ve had more students referred for attendance issues because their attendance seems to be dropping off a little. We have students who we have been very concerned about since the beginning of the school year. Some of these students we have not been able to get in regardless of attempts made by teachers, phone calls or even taking material to their home. I personally have never seen numbers this high for retention, but we have always had concerns. We have some children we have not been able to get into the building because their parents are fearful of the pandemic, so we are trying to make them as comfortable as possible. We have one child in Big Stone Beach, and I think the only thing we could do to help her is to put up a tower because the child simply does not have the technology. We’ve given students all the technology we can, but there is still that factor. So, do I think the numbers may be a bit escalated due to the pandemic, yes, I do.”
McKenzie also explained that, due to the pandemic, courts are not supportive of truancy cases. She also stated that the staff and teachers are doing everything they can to help students. She explained that the district technical department has been very helpful and that interventionists have been visiting students. She also wanted to make it clear that teachers are working as hard as possible to reach every student but that there were limits on what they could do.
Miller pointed out that all four elementary schools mentioned attendance as a driving factor in poor academics, asking if there was an overall theme why students were not getting into school.
“It could be attendance online, it is not that they are not getting into school necessarily,” McKenzie said. “I don’t think there is an overlying issue. We do have a certain section of our population that is homeless and they have moved multiple times throughout this process. Because of the homeless situation, it has been difficult to get them in. We’ve tried to bring in anyone who has had connectivity issues. We saw it often when there were multiple children living in the same household. We also notice it when there is no adult at home to help guide a child with technology, or if they are there with an older sibling, babysitter or even grandparent who is not sure what needs to be done.”
Milford Central Academy Principal Gary Zoll explained that they compiled the data slightly differently than the elementary schools. According to the data, 72 percent of sixth grade students were on track for promotion while 19 percent were at low to moderate risk for retention and nine percent were at moderate to high risk for retention. In the seventh grade, 69 percent were on track for promotion while 21 percent were at low to moderate risk and 10 percent at moderate to high risk for retention. In eighth grade, 63 percent were on track for promotion with 23 percent at low to moderate risk and 14 percent at moderate to high risk of retention.
“If you look at this, it is considerably higher than the elementary schools,” Zoll said. “If you look at the numbers for the past two years, however, it is right on par. Also like the elementary schools, for some reason in the spring, their grades get better. I think because parents realize that the student has to complete the work and get it in since absenteeism and failure to turn in work is the main cause of those failures. We had parent teacher conferences a week ago and they went extremely well. We were able to bring in parents and have heart-to-heart conversations to see what may be going on in those homes. We have also increased home visits for those students who are struggling. Attendance is very weird across the board. We have some students who do very well in the hybrid format but do not do well with virtual learning and then we have those who are the opposite.”
Because Milford High School bases promotion on credits, Principal Jesse Parsley explained that they viewed the data differently. Freshmen need six credits for promotion while sophomores need 13. Juniors must have 20 credits and seniors must have 25 credits to graduate. The data presented showed that just over 74 percent of freshmen were on track for promotion with just under 10 percent at low to moderate risk and just over 16 percent at moderate to high risk for retention. Just under 73 percent of sophomores were on track for promotion with just over 11 percent at low to moderate risk and just under 17 percent at moderate to high risk. In the junior class, almost 84 percent were on track for promotion with just under 9 percent at low to moderate risk for retention and just over 7 percent at moderate to high risk. Seniors showed over 81 percent on pace to graduate with just over 14 percent at low to moderate risk and almost five percent at moderate to high risk of retention.
“Freshmen still have the opportunity to catch up since we are a semester-based school,” Parsley said. “Students in the moderate to high risk still have four classes this semester to promote to 10thgrade even if they struggle the first semester. When we began hybrid, we had 120 students in that learning format. We now have 190 because we are having those parent conversations to get more in the building, so they have the structure and support they need. We have our EL paras and EL teachers working with those families because we find those children do much better when they are here.”
Board Vice-President Rony Baltazar asked whether there had been an increase in dropouts for students in 10thgrade since many children turned 16 during that school year and state law allowed them to drop out at that age.
“We hold exit interviews with any student who chooses to drop out,” Parsley said. “Conversations are key because sometimes students cannot see past their nose. We have that conversation with the student and the parent, but we really try to start the conversation in ninth grade based on credits. The exit interview includes a school counselor and an administrator who try to stress that it really would be better for the child to remain in school.” Parsley also felt that the number of students at risk for retention were similar to those prior to the pandemic.
Dr. Kevin Dickerson, Superintendent, explained that the teachers and staff had worked extremely hard to support the students.
“I also have to be very complementary to our daycares and our parents who have been very helpful throughout this process,” Dr. Dickerson said. “I think as we talk through as a group, those who are having trouble being on Google Meets and those class sessions on a regular basis, especially those we are not seeing inside our schools, that is where we are seeing the higher percentages of failures. But, we cannot stress enough the phenomenal job our teachers are doing with our families. We still have to figure out how to connect these students we are not seeing get on Google Meets and our class sessions on a regular basis. The asynchronous work by itself is difficult, so we really need them to engage in the lesson. That’s the reason we have gone to concurrent, but we need to figure out a way to help those students who are still struggling and get them to regularly connect in the classroom.”
Dr. Bridget Amory, Director of Student Learning, stated that they would bring new statistics at the end of the third marking period for the board to review.