OR schools to take ‘accelerated’ approach to combat learning loss

Oct 5, 2021

The Old Rochester Regional School District is showing no signs of slowing down in educating its students.

As Tri-Town schools forge into an in-person school year following a year of largely remote learning, the district is opting to take an “accelerated learning” approach to keeping students on track.

Essentially, the “accelerated” approach will have students learning grade-level material throughout the year, and largely forgo remediation for learning lost during remote instruction.

The philosophy, district officials revealed at a Sept. 23 Joint School Committee Meeting, is that remediation doesn’t help kids get closer to grade-level learning, but has the opposite effect of keeping them away from such learning for longer.

“That model does not work and students actually fall behind,” Superintendent Mike Nelson said.

The “accelerated” approach will provide “consistent access to grade-level work,” Nelson said, supplemented with additional support from educators.

Assistant Superintendent Janell Pearson-Campbell said that grade-level work is “critical to their academic development.”

The accelerated learning plan is broken into four phases: an analyzing and planning stage, a goal-setting stage, an implementation stage, and a review stage.

Nelson said the acceleration plan is “essentially a blueprint” for getting kids back on track after last year, something parents indicated in a district survey was needed for their children.

In the survey, 79.5% of the near-1,400 respondents indicated that their children learn better in an in-person school setting, opposed to remote learning. Around 17% of respondents said their children learn equally well in person and in remote settings.

Additionally, 71.8% of surveyed parents indicated that they felt their student, in a remote learning setting, learned better when teachers held live, interactive lessons compared to other methods like pre-recorded lessons and assigned work.

“So we’re really embracing this learning acceleration definition,” Nelson said.

While the Old Rochester Regional School District largely performed above the state average in the MCAS tests last year, it, like most other districts in the state, slipped from previous years’ scores.

The only school in the district which performed better on the 2021 MCAS tests than in 2019, the last time they were administered, was Rochester Memorial School. The other five Old Rochester district schools saw at least minor declines in scores compared to 2019.

Average scores at Center School went from 71.5% meeting or exceeding expectations averaged across english, math and science, to 55%. At Old Hammondtown, that figure dropped to 70.67% from 77%. At Sippican School, students meeting or exceeding expectations dropped from 60% to 52.7%. Old Rochester Regional High School slipped just 1.5% from 77% to 75.5%, but the junior high saw the largest decline, with a drop from 67% in 2019 to 45.7% in 2021. Rochester Memorial’s rate of students meeting or exceeding expectations increased by .33% from 53% in 2019.

Notably, nearly all of the above declines in performance were less severe than the state average, which dropped from 49.7 to 40.3% among elementary and middle schoolers, and from 60 to 58% among high school students.

But, the superintendent said, MCAS scores are “all snapshots,” and “you can’t compare this data to any year before.”

Due to the challenges facing education last school year, Nelson said the data from last year’s tests doesn’t provide a full picture of the success of the district.

“You really have to look at this data in an isolated manner,” he said, and treat MCAS scores as just one of many data points when analyzing the performance of Old Rochester.

Still, Nelson said the district’s MCAS scores “set us up to have a strong foundation moving forward,” adding that they give a baseline for the question: “What do we need to do now to get even better?”