BUSD Sees Academic Growth in 1st Half of School Year

First published in the May 28 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

The Burbank Unified School District recently presented a sample of its students’ academic performance so far this year to the Board of Education that could help determine the learning gaps caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

BUSD used emergency relief funding and grants and spent $495,418 to offer intervention and track students’ academic progress — which was mandated by the state after schools pivoted to distance learning for nearly a year due to high coronavirus transmission rates — as pupils transitioned back into in-person instruction.

The district hired coordinators and used a program called i-Ready that assesses students’ performance in reading and mathematics and provides schools with data indicating strength and weakness.

Robyn Anders, the district’s coordinator of instructional technology, delivered the assessments to the board on May 19 and began with good news.

“We saw growth in all of our grade levels from the beginning of the year to the middle of the year,” he said.

Though Burbank students showed improvement as the year progressed, the i-Ready program highlighted some areas of subjects that require more intervention.

From kindergarten through fifth grade, nearly a quarter of students began the year requiring intervention in either English or math, or both subjects, and it was higher among middle school students, of whom 39% were identified as needing support. However, the figure wasn’t a cause for concern as some children begin the year behind academically and most of them catch up.

In grades 1 and 2, the students who were below grade level in English need a significant amount of support in phonics. The data also showed that intervention for students below grade level in grades 3-5 should focus on vocabulary and reading comprehension, and a large portion of 3rd graders assessed below grade level demonstrate a need for phonics instruction.

Among elementary students who were below one or more grade levels in math, there was no specific domain that required more attention than the others. Students in grades 1-3 need slightly more attention in numbers and operations and students in 3-5 require more help in geometry.

The data for middle and high school pupils used grades to measure performance, and students seem to be struggling in geometry, algebra, earth and space science, English, biology, Spanish and world history.

At John Burroughs High, the students’ fall semester average grade point average was 3.11, an improvement from 2019-20 when it was 3.05. Burbank High’s fall GPA slightly dipped this year to 3.07, compared to the 3.12 average GPA two years ago.

Another positive note from Anders was that the data from the special education students indicate that they “aren’t really any different than our general ed population as far as their grade distribution.

“Special education students have done pretty well in their classes as far as earning the grades that they need to move forward,” he added.

Board member Steve Ferguson said that data is a “good snapshot” of the first half but is eager to see the data from the remainder of the year to see if the numbers hold up.

“My biggest concern, frankly, is in the semester where we had about 10 weeks where one-third of our school district was not in school,” he said. “What I do see, though, is consistently 20% of the population not changing no matter the interventions that we’re deploying. So that tells me that potentially we may need different interventions or explore different interventions to [the students who need the most help].”

Superintendent Matt Hill assured the board that he and his staff work closely with school sites, and administrators have reviewed the data to get a good handle on interventions.

“The biggest intervention we’re doing clearly right now is getting students enrolled into summer school based on grades,” Hill said. Another concern for Ferguson and his colleagues is the budget and how much may be allocated for BUSD to spend on interventions to help students.

“When it comes to intervention and addressing some of these concerns and questions, there’s also the question of funding,” said board member Armond Aghakhanian. “What’s out there? It’s one thing to put out studies, the other one is can we afford them if we want to address these concerns. To me, that is important.”

Hill said that staff is still working on updating the budget after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s May revision and the financial outlook of the district will be presented during the board meeting on June 16.