HomeSchools & YouthDistrict Addresses Lingering Academic Struggles

District Addresses Lingering Academic Struggles

The Burbank Unified School District reported dips in student performance metrics as education officials identify continued challenges following the COVID-19 pandemic and an influx of English learners.

High school graduation rates were down from 96.2% in 2022 to 93.2% in 2023, though the figures for last school year are 1-2% higher than pandemic-era rates. And while some learning areas saw incremental improvement year over year, including standardized test scores for certain demographics, testing scores and graduation rates for English learners showed the most severe dips.

In 2022, 89.2% of English learners graduated from high school. Last year, that figure fell to just 80.6%. That’s still higher than the California average, although the state overall has seen a slight year over year improvement in graduation rates for the English learners’ demographic, indicating BUSD English learners are not following the trend of improvement.

Test scores for English learners are also down 6% to 7% across the board.

District leaders discussed the challenges at Thursday’s Board of Education meeting.

“It’s definitely something that we take seriously,” said Superintendent John Paramo. “It’s frustrating, coming out of COVID, to see where our academic scores are, and where they were before.”

Paramo emphasized that the pandemic created severe learning challenges that have persisted in students graduating today. Online learning and decreased attendance resulted in children learning less overall. What students did learn, they were less likely to retain between school years, he noted.

“It’s really devastating to keep getting compared to three years ago, four years ago, when there were so many factors that affected our scores,” Paramo said.

Paramo said that he directed staff to gather the comprehensive list of scores, available on the district’s website, to have a starting point to measure improvement and set goals for the coming school year.

“The goal is that we can look at those against the measurements from the fall, the end of the spring, and we can keep doing that,” he said. “To me those scores are more stable and are starting from today and allow us to look forward.”

This year the district has observed new challenges for teachers working with English learners. More students from countries like Ukraine, Russia and Armenia have come to Burbank, and in some cases are refugees escaping war.

The district is kicking off a new phonics program and will implement it into the elementary curriculum geared toward accelerating those students’ growth.

“Based on the data, it looks like we need help there. We are doing that professional development the first week we get back to school and the teachers will start implementing that during the year. I hope we see some progress,” Paramo said.

School Board President Emily Weisberg said she thinks the district has done an exceptional job focusing on learning loss in the years since COVID, and noted the influx of English learners from other countries “who are coming with different issues and experiences.”

“There’s an enormous amount beyond just the numbers that I think tells an important story,” Weisberg said.

She added that it is going to be increasingly difficult to recover to where the district was before the COVID-19 pandemic. Dwindling state budget resources means the challenges aren’t over for BUSD.

“We are dealing with a very different educational landscape,” she said. “… Metrics are people in our case, and there is an enormous amount of data, information and experience that goes into understanding them.”

First published in the June 22 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

Most Popular

[bsa_pro_ad_space id=3]