GCSD uses federal funds to help close gaps caused by pandemic

— Graph from GCSD

Students from poor families at Guilderland fared worse after the pandemic shutdown than before, with proficiency (levels 3 and 4) being achieved by 21 percent, as opposed to 38 percent, of fourth-graders taking the English test.

GUILDERLAND — Guilderland test scores in recent years are either in line with or exceeding state data, according to Rachel Anderson, the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.

On May 2, Anderson told the school board about test results as well as programs and services — some of them paid for with pandemic-related federal funds — meant to close gaps.

“If you look at the 2021 scores, there’s an increase in proficiency rates, but you have to remember that those were the released tests,” said Anderson. “So those are questions students may have seen before, and they were shortened versions of the assessments.”

Fourth-grade English test results provide a representative look at Guilderland’s results for grades 3 through 8.

Results are classified into three levels:

— 4 means the student is excelling and performing above the standards expected for that grade level;

— 3 means the student is on track and considered proficient;

— 2 means the student has some knowledge but falls short of the proficiency level and may require additional instruction or support; and

— 1 means the student is well below the expected grade level and requires additional support and intervention.

In 2018, before the pandemic, 296 Guilderland fourth-graders took the English test and 62 percent of them were considered proficient with 9 percent at the lowest level.

That compares with 47 percent statewide being proficient and 19 percent being at the lowest level.

The next year, in 2019, results were similar both for Guilderland and statewide: 59 percent of the 333 Guilderland fourth-graders who took the English test were proficient while statewide 48 percent were proficient.

Because of the pandemic, the tests were not given in 2020.

In 2021, as the pandemic continued, limited assessments were administered with many families choosing to opt out. The scores were generally higher because, as Anderson explained, the tests were shortened and some of the questions were familiar.

Of the 276 fourth-graders tested in Guilderland, 72 percent were found to be proficient with 8 percent at the lowest level. 

Statewide, 62 percent were proficients with 14 percent at the lowest level.

In 2022, there was a return to full testing although many families still chose to opt out. At Guilderland, 2,259 students were tested in English with 6.8 percent refusing and 2,259 were also tested in math.

At Guilderland last year, 356 fourth-grade students took the English test and the proficiency rate fell to 47 percent with 15 percent at the lowest level.

“We did have a little bit of a dip in proficiency level from pre-pandemic,” said Anderson. This was typical across the state and nation.



Anderson noted that the disparity between pre-pandemic results and results from 2022 was more pronounced when various subgroups were broken out and went over the results in the fourth-grade English exam for students with disabilities, English language learners, Asians or Pacific Islanders, Black, and Hispanic students.

Anderson said that, because these are small groups of students, an individual’s performance has a greater effect on the overall score.

The subgroup that drew the most comments from school board members was made up of students from poor families with one board member calling the 2022 drop in proficiency “absolutely devastating.”

Out of 356 fourth-graders who took the test, 57 were classified as coming from economically disadvantaged families.

“That was the one that stood out as the most significantly different,” said board President Seema Rivera.

Vice President Kelly Person said what stuck out for her was, while all public schools went down in 2022, the drop was to 17 percent proficiency. “But we went down by 30 percent,” she said.

So, while Guilderland is above public schools in most subgroups, “this one in particular is significantly down,” said Person. “So I’d be interested in why.”

However, 2022 test results for Guilderland students from poor families did have more students in the third group — 54 percent compared to the statewide 36 percent — and fewer in the bottom category:  25 percent compared to the statewide 33 percent.

“That’s something I think we need to dig into,” Anderson responded to the school board members. “It’s definitely an area of concern.”

She also said, “There’s a reason some of our federal funds … are targeted for populations that were disproportionately affected by COVID.”

There has been widespread speculation that, during the pandemic, students from poor families had less access to computers and other equipment, which hampered their progress when learning was not in person or was a combination of in-person and online; also, in many poor families, parents were less likely to be able to stay home during the shutdown to help their students with schoolwork.

In 2018 and 2019, at Guilderland, 38 percent of students from poor families were deemed proficient; that jumped to 51 percent in 2021 but then dropped to 21 percent in 2022.

For the first two years, the proficiency rate statewide for students from poor families was about the same as at Guilderland — 37 percent in 2018 and 38 percent in 2019 — bumping up to 47 percent in 2021 but then falling, not as far as Guilderland, to 30 percent in 2022.

For all fourth-graders tested last year in English at Guilderland, 47 percent were proficient.

For English language learners, 31 percent were proficient, more than twice the 15 percent statewide.

Guilderland Hispanic students had about the same proficiency rate as statewise, 27 percent compared to 30 percent. 

Black students at Guilderland had a proficiency rate, at 61 percent, more than double the statewide rate of 30 percent.

Asian students at Guilderland had a 45 percent proficiency rate compared with 64 percent statewide.

Students with disabilities at Guilderland had a 20 percent proficiency rate compared with 12 percent statewide.

The view becomes rosiest when looking at the endpoint for English exams — the Regents — rather than just the fourth-grade test scores. At Guilderland, 95 percent of the 367 students who took the English exam last year were proficient, higher than the pre-pandemic 89 percent in 2018 and 92 percent in 2019.

Statewide on the English Regents, 81 percent were proficient with about half, 42 percent, at the highest level. Guilderland, in 2022, had 68 percent at the highest level.

“This data does show us some areas of focus and growth, particularly making sure that we’re aligned to the standards that will start being measured in the 2023 cycle,” said Anderson. “So making sure that our curriculum is aligned to the Next Generation Learning Standards, taking a look at our teaching practices, making sure that we are engaging students from all of our diverse backgrounds, and all of our subgroups, employing some inclusivity and some culturally responsive teaching methods.”

Teachers will use the testing data when planning instruction, she said.


Curriculum initiatives

The state’s Board of Regents, which governs education in New York, adopted newly revised standards for teaching English and math in September 2017. Tests are to be aligned with the new standards beginning this spring for third through eighth grades. The cut scores for these tests have been lowered.

Regents exams will then be phased in to reflect the new standards.

Each cabinet at Guilderland, representing the different academic subjects, is working now to align instruction with the Next Generation Learning Standards, Anderson said.

The Language Arts Cabinet has already met and agreed on its focus, she said, which includes expansion of the Word Study program and supporting literacy coaches — there will be one coach at each school next year.

“The focus is to provide an articulated curriculum roadmap for reading and writing in grades K - 5,” said Anderson. “That’s very ambitious.”

Layered on top of that, she said, is providing interventions for students who are not at levels 3 or 4 for proficiency.

“Those tiered intervention approaches will also include some work in phonemic awareness, Word Study, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension,” Anderson said.

She went over similar initiatives for the math, science, and social studies cabinets and also mentioned goals for art, music, physical education, business, and world languages.

All of them are working to meet the new standards, Anderson said, which for science includes required investigations and in social studies involves “keeping an eye” on diversity, equity, and inclusion goals for “culturally responsive teaching.”

Anderson also went over a long list of staff being hired and services being provided through federal grants.

This includes, for example, literacy coaches at three elementary schools, and a social worker to help homeless students. It also includes a “floating nurse”; special-education teachers; and academic support in math, reading, and world languages.

Federal funds are also paying for Promethean boards, Chromebooks, and software as well as athletic equipment, musical instruments, digital cameras, kilns, and sewing machines.

Facilities too are being aided with federal funds, including outdoor pavilions at all buildings; heating, ventilation and air-conditioning work at the high school; and cleaning equipment.

Most of these have already been paid for, said Anderson. “The exception to that is the summer programs that we’re using this money to fund.”

“I think it’s great,” said board member Rebecca Butterfield of all that the federal monies have purchased. “I’m just concerned about our ability to sustain them for the ’24 and ’25 budget going forward, particularly the instructional component and the social-emotional supports.”


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