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DeKalb Schools officials say they are ‘concerned’ about Milestones scores, but not surprised

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DeKalb Schools officials say they are ‘concerned’ about Milestones scores, but not surprised

DeKalb County Interim Superintendent Dr. Vasanne Tinsley. Photo by Dean Hesse.

DeKalb County, GA — The DeKalb County Board of Education on Friday, July 22, quietly released the most recent Milestones scores on the district’s website.

Unlike other press releases issued by the DeKalb County School District, this one wasn’t sent to the media.

Milestones scores are a measure of how well our students understand what they’re learning in class. According to the press release, students who are proficient learners “have demonstrated the knowledge and skills necessary for their grade level or the course they took.” Those students are prepared for the next grade and on track for college and career readiness.

The Milestones test scores released on July 22 show most of the county’s students are falling short of those goals.

The DeKalb County School District near the bottom among metro Atlanta school districts in terms of overall scores, running about even with Atlanta Public Schools according to data reviewed by Decaturish.com. To see spreadsheets comparing the scores of metro Atlanta school districts, click here and here. To see Milestones data for other districts, click here.

Both APS and DCSD cited the pandemic for the poor performance, but APS also provided an action plan for how it intends to bring students up to speed. To see the APS plan, click here. To date, DeKalb County Schools has not released a similar plan.

DeKalb Schools Interim Superintendent Dr. Vasanne Tinsley discussed the scores with Decaturish on July 29, Day 2 of the DeKalb County School Board’s retreat.

“It told us what we thought would happen,” Tinsley said. “We know the pandemic brought forth challenges for communities across the country, and so what we understood was that there would be some learning blocks. So, they told us this when we first embarked on the pandemic. They did tell us we would have learning loss. …. The important part is that we understand that information is going to be used now to help us ramp up and do what we need to do to address and remediate those issues.”

Decaturish asked Dr. Tinsley what the district will do to help address students learning loss during the pandemic. APS released a sketch of a plan that included a school-based intervention class, a summer academic recovery academy a comprehensive assessment system.

“What we’ve done this summer because we knew these results were going to come out, we didn’t know what the results were going to look like, but we knew that we need to make sure that we did some training with our teachers,” Dr. Tinsley said. “We had summer learning all summer with them. But what we also know is that every student, we’re going to have to look at this individually. It’s not going to be a cookie cutter approach to how we handle this. So, our curriculum and instruction department, we’ve already started talking about what that looks like. Fortunately, our board understood the need to support our students and support our schools.

“So, there are different components in our budget that was just recently passed that will help us with some of that individualized strategy building for our students. So, we’re excited. I mean, it’s not what we wanted to see. Let’s be very clear about that. But we understand that it’s much bigger than just test scores, and we understand that a lot of it has to do with some of the other things students and families had to deal with during the pandemic.”

Lauren Taylor, a former DeKalb County Schools parent who still advocates for parents, said COVID exposed problems in school districts that already existed.

“It’s not COVID,” Taylor said. “It’s never been covid. The scores were abysmal in 2019 pre-covid … Nobody in Georgia has been doing a good job.”

Kirk Lunde, another former DeKalb County Schools parent who still advocates for parents, agreed that the scores shouldn’t be a surprise and said the pandemic only exacerbated problems that existed pre-COVID. He noted students received mandatory tutoring last year.

“Generally, nothing was a surprise,” Lunde said about the scores. “I mean, DeKalb County has a long history of promoting students who should not be promoted, of passing students who shouldn’t pass, which was exaggerated and amplified during the pandemic. Even mandatory tutoring didn’t change anything.”

At the retreat, School Board members said the scores concern them.

“I’m concerned,” School Board member Deirdre Pierce said. “I’m very concerned.”

School Board-member elect Whitney McGinnis attended the retreat and said she’s still studying the data.

“Obviously, some of those scores were not great before COVID and I think the pandemic only hurt us,” she said. “But yes, I have seen those scores and they are something I think we all should be concerned about, not something to celebrate. The question is where do we go from here, what tools do we have to support students who are not at grade level.”

Board Chair Vickie Turner said she shares the concerns of other officials, but wasn’t surprised by what the scores showed.

“Every year, we wait with bated breath for our scores to come out, and I can say honestly, we expected there was going to be some learning loss,” Turner said. “I think anyone in education would’ve expected it, and we’re still trying to recover and while it’s unfortunate, and it demands more attention, and it requires we strategize. I don’t think, it came as a major surprise to us. It’s alarming. It’s concerning.”

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