BKW students improve standardized test scores from pre-pandemic year

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff
Young students at Berne-Knox-Westerlo in 2020, just before the district went remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

HILLTOWNS — Bucking a statewide and national trend, Berne-Knox-Westerlo students have outperformed themselves from pre-pandemic years on New York State’s standardized tests, according to state data that was recently released. 

Not only were scores for 3-8 math and 3-8 English language arts similar or higher this year than the 2018-19 school year, but participation rates improved as well, particularly in math. 

In 2015, just 61 percent of BKW students took the required state exams while the recently released results for 2020-21 show that 97 percent or more of the students participated.

In English, 97 percent of students — 304 in total — took the test, and 60 percent of those students showed proficiency; in 2018-19, the year before the start of the pandemic, 96 percent of students participated, and 50 percent showed proficiency.

The average proficiency rate statewide this year was 47 percent, with an 81 percent participation rate. 

The greatest proficiency in English at BKW was in the 6th and 7th grades, at 76 percent and 75 percent, respectively. Grade 3 was the lowest, at 43 percent, which was the only grade that fell below its corresponding state average, which was 46 percent.  

The district reports on its website that it placed in the top 100 of over 670 districts ranked for ELA. 

In math, 98 percent of BKW students — or 305 — in grades 3-8 were tested, and 50 percent showed proficiency. This is up from 48 percent being proficient in 2018-19, when 91 percent of students took the test. Statewide, the average proficiency was 41 percent, with 82 percent of students participating. 

While the third grade had the lowest proficiency in English, it had the highest in math, at 73 percent. Meanwhile, the lowest math proficiency was displayed in grades 7 and 8 (40 percent and 37 percent, respectively), which were among the top grades for English. Only grade 8 fell below its corresponding state average, which was 46 percent. 

The district states that it was in the top 150 schools for math performance. 

All in all, BKW — while continuing to build on its performances from prior years — bucked the trend of lower achievement following the COVID-19 pandemic, which added significant amounts of stress to many students’ lives in addition to forcing them to learn remotely — a completely novel form that had to be adopted on a wide scale very quickly. 

The negative impact of the pandemic was twice as strong on math as it was on reading with data suggesting that the average student lost half a year of learning in math and a quarter of a year in reading. 

This is reflected somewhat in New York State’s test scores. Students were only 1 percent less proficient in English this year than they were in 2018-19, but were 4 percent less proficient in math. 

The district attributes its success to “proper planning, leadership from the Board of Education, parental/caregiver participation, and effective instructional outreach,” with community connections being especially important for its high participation rate, which the district notes is up just under 40 percent to “nearly perfect levels” from 2015, when the average participation rate was 61 percent. 

“In addition, the district was able to achieve these positive results due to a multitude of areas, such as increased social-emotional outreach and support services for students/families, and increased student participation for in-person instruction that was provided during the pandemic,” the district report states.

“Also, a progressive scheduling approach was followed to better align teachers’ time to allow them to prepare for student and family needs during this timeframe. A community-based approach that has continued to gain traction over the years to get to where we are today.”

Superintendent Timothy Mundell states in the report, “Since 2015, we have worked to develop and prepare our district to deliver quality programs and curriculums for today’s students. We have increased opportunities for the continued success of our district, whether its introducing cutting-edge technology, improved access to classroom assistance or creating forward-thinking clubs and programs. 

“By reviewing this recent data,” he continues, “we are making significant gains as leaders in educational outreach, while building a special and connected campus for our community.”

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