SUSAN MILLER

 
Jefferson County School Board
 
 

Dear Community,

Even before the pandemic arrived too many Jeffco students were not meeting grade level proficiency standards, and many have suffered further COVID learning losses.

The good news is that thanks to the substantial federal and state aid Jeffco will be receiving, we now have one time resources available to help our students recover their achievement losses and catch up to proficiency.

In order to do this, we must choose cost effective achievement improvement interventions and implement them with discipline and fidelity.

Below is information on “Multi-Tiered System of Supports” (MTSS).

Implementing MTSS in Jeffco to

Recover COVID Learning Losses

By Susan Miller

 

Because of the disruption caused by the pandemic, Jeffco students have very likely suffered some degree of learning losses over the past year. 

 

These losses came on top of the significant proficiency shortfalls that were evidence on the 2019 CMAS assessments.  For example, 54% of Jeffco third graders did not meet state English Language Arts (i.e., reading and writing) standards, 65% of our sixth graders didn’t meet state math standards, and 62% of our eighth graders didn’t meet state science standards.

 

We also know from research that once a student falls significantly behind, it is increasingly difficult for them to catch up to proficiency before they graduate (see ACT’s report, “Catching Up to College and Career Readiness”).

 

In the past, one of the arguments made to explain the failure of districts to catch students back up to proficiency was a lack of money. While I disagree with that (I think we could use existing funding much more effectively), today it has been rendered moot by the enormous amount of aid that districts will receive from the federal government to support the recovery of students’ COVID learning losses.

 

However, the challenge of spending that money as effectively as possible remains.

 

Let me put that in perspective for you.  The Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) is the non-partisan research arm of the Washington State Legislature (akin to the US Congressional Research Service).  They have rigorously analyzed a range of interventions that can be used to increase student achievement (there is another document containing all WSIPP’s analyses on my website: “Rigorously Choosing Between Different Options for Recovering Covid Learning Losses”)

 

The following table summarizes their results. “Effect Size” is a measure of the average achievement improvement that was observed across a range of rigorous studies.

 

To put these Effect Sizes in perspective, between grades 1 and 12, the median increase in the minimum (or cut) scale score for proficiency in a subject is equal to an Effect Size of .32 (i.e., .32 standard deviations).

 

Students in the lowest CMAS category are one or more standard deviations below grade level.

 

In “Interpreting Effect Sizes of Education Interventions,” Brown University’s Matthew Kraft analyzed high quality studies (usually randomized control trials) of reading and math interventions in grades one through twelve. He found that the median achievement improvement intervention had an effect size of only 0.10 standard deviations.

 

That is why catching up to proficiency is so hard once a student has fallen significantly behind.

 

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As you can see, WSIPP also provides an estimate of the probability that each achievement improvement intervention will deliver benefits that exceed its costs.

 

However, selecting the most cost-effective achievement improvement interventions is only half the battle. We also need to understand how much they will cost.

 

There is a methodology called “Multi-Tiered System of Supports” (MTSS) that enables us to meet that challenge.  MTSS is based on the common sense idea that students who have fallen furthest behind should receive the most support to help them catch up.

 

MTSS divides this support into three “tiers”: 

 

“Tier 1” is regular classroom instruction, that every student receives, and which incurs no incremental costs.

 

“Tier 2” support is provided students who need more help.

 

“Tier 3” provides the most intensive support to student who need the most help to catch up to proficiency.

 

Let’s look at what MTSS might look like in Jeffco.

 

Let’s assume that in Jeffco MTSS would address the needs of students in grades 1 through 12, who on last winter’s NWEA Math MAP test were projected to be in the lowest two categories on the spring CMAS assessment.  Since MAP only covers grades 2 through 8, I’ll assume that the numbers for grade 1 match those in grade 3, and the numbers in grades 9 through 12 match those in grade 8.

 

Let’s also assume that students projected to be in the lowest CMAS category (9,858 in reading and 11,224 in math) will receive “Tier 3” supports, and those in the “partially meets” category will receive “Tier 2” supports (12,735 in reading and 14,901 in math).

 

In terms of time, let’s use the following assumptions (which are based on best practice guides) for the time involved in Tier 3 and Tier 2 supports:

 

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The district Uniform Improvement Plan (UIP) is submitted to the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) annually and outlines the root causes of Jeffco’s inability to reach its academic achievement goals.

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This equates to a need for 98,388 person days to provide Tier 2 and Tier 3 Reading supports, and 112,210 person days to provide Tier 2 and Tier 3 Math supports.

 

The critical question is where these days will come from, and how much they will cost.

 

For example, let’s assume that current school based staff (teachers, instructional coaches, and social emotional learning specialists) worked 2 hours longer each day to provide some of the required Tier 2 and Tier 3 supports.  Based on the average cost (salary plus benefits) of a Jeffco teacher, the extra time would cost $16.3 million/year.

 

However, that would still leave a need to hire people to provide the remaining 35,773 hours of Tier 2 and Tier 3 supports. Assuming we could find talented people without a teaching credential (e.g., a recent graduate or retiree with a math degree), to provide these supports at half the cost of a teacher, I estimate it would cost another $7.7 million/year. So, the total additional cost to provide Tier 2 and Tier 3 supports would be about $24 million. 

 

Finding $24 million (2.4%) in a billion-dollar district budget (before the infusion of additional millions in federal and state aid) should not be hard. If someone suggests it is, that raises another set of very serious questions about the district’s financial management.

 

In sum, even before the pandemic arrives, too many Jeffco students were not meeting grade level proficiency standards, and many have suffered further COVID learning losses.

 

We also know that, even before the pandemic arrived, once a student has fallen significantly behind, catching up to proficiency by the time they graduate is very difficult.

 

The good news is that thanks to the substantial federal and state aid Jeffco will be receiving, we now have unprecedented resources available to help our students recover their achievement losses and catch up to proficiency.

 

However, in order to do this, we must not only choose cost effective achievement improvement interventions, but also implement them with discipline and high fidelity.

 

The stakes are very high. If we do not successfully meet the achievement challenges we face, we risk not only our children’s future, but also the public’s confidence in public education and trust in its leaders.

 

Please be sure to review the resources.

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