Spring benchmark scores in Comanche County schools show students exceeding expectations despite COVID-19

Janeece Fourkiller, the OEA, OU and Landers Chevrolet Oklahoma Classroom Hero, leads her Flower Mound fourth grade students in a lesson Monday. Flower Mound Superintendent Dax Trent said his staff worked throughout the summer to make sure students could return to the classroom in August. He said this helped his school maintain high testing scores.

Flower Mound and Bishop school districts in Comanche County scored above state averages in fall and spring.

Analysis of spring benchmark data aligned to the Oklahoma Academic Standards (OAS) found students in schools using OAS-aligned curriculum and assessments are performing better than expected this year despite the pandemic.

The tests, said Flower Mound Superintendent Dax Trent, are not official state testing but are similar enough to give administrators and educators an accurate gauge of how students will perform during state testing. The program consists of three tests given periodically throughout the year — typically at the beginning, middle and end of the school year. Schools use the tests to get an idea on what areas of the curriculum to focus on prior to taking state exams.

This year’s numbers show Flower Mound with a baseline average of 55 percent passing and a spring average of 71 percent passing. Flower Mound, according to Alpha Plus, the administrators of the program, is well above state averages of 43 percent and 57 percent for the same reporting period.

Bishop school district showed a baseline of 51 percent and spring average of 62 percent vs state averages for the same time frame.

These higher numbers can be attributed to well thought out planning and getting students back into the classroom said Trent. When many schools in Oklahoma chose to stay virtual in August 2020, Trent and Flower Mound instead spent the time between spring break and August planning on how to get the students back into the classroom.

“You got that nine weeks where many schools didn’t return and what we were going to do for those nine weeks was going to determine quality versus quantity,” Trent said. “Our staff did a really good job in giving a quality product for those nine weeks. Even though our kids weren’t going to finish the school year as normal, we had to find a way to challenge them to finish as normal as we possibly could.”

Like many schools, Flower Mound ran both virtual and traditional classrooms, however Flower Mounds lower virtual student enrollment as compared to classroom enrollment contributed to higher than average numbers. Trent said he also felt that his students finished strong prior to spring break 2020 when Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt closed schools for the remainder of the year.

“(Staff) started meeting in April about what August was going to look like,” Trent said. “Of course, everything changed, but at least we knew we were planning for things that would have to change. But if we knew we had a foundation of that plan, we could at least tweak it for that change as far as what the virus was doing. So we spent all summer planning for August, because we knew that it was important for kids to be in a structured learning environment.”

In 52 schools statewide, 75 percent or more of students in grades 3-8 completed OAS-aligned reading and math benchmarks in March and early April. The spring average from 9,587 students statewide was 14 percentage points higher than the fall baseline. Flower Mound students achieved 17 percent growth from fall to spring.

“Based on midyear and spring data for the schools we serve, student learning loss caused by the pandemic has not been as great as many predicted,” Alpha Plus CEO Jan Barrick explained. “We congratulate and send our gratitude to the teams of educators, students and parents in Flower Mound who are doing the hard work of teaching and learning in and out of school this year.”

What was most impressive said Trent was his 100 percent participation rate in benchmark and state testing. He said he and his staff worked to get students and parents excited about seeing how well they do on the tests. This ensured every student, both virtual and traditional, returned to the classroom to take the tests.

Flower Mound’s benchmark scores, while impressive by themselves, are also consistent with prior years, said Alpha Plus officials in a press release. This is likely because of the curriculum closely follows state testing requirements and because many of these schools have been using OAS-aligned curriculum for a number of years.

Going forward will be the toughest part for Flower Mound, said Trent. He and his staff will need to continually look for ways to improve scores in an ever-changing education landscape.

“You have to appreciate what we’ve done,” Trent said. “But the challenge in scoring well is staying there and finding little ways to make it better. If we know anything in the State of Oklahoma, we know Oklahoma loves to change the landscape of education. We didn’t prepare for COVID, but I think because what we did on a daily basis and what our teachers expect out of their kids and the way they model their classrooms, I think we were prepared for COVID. We didn’t make it political and we didn’t make it geographical, we just did what was best for kids, collectively.”

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