Chambers County Learning Crisis: Most elementary students not meeting state standards

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CHAMBERS COUNTY, Ala. (WRBL) – The Chambers County Schools Superintendent says the system, primarily elementary students, is experiencing a learning crisis in large part to COVID-19. The superintendent says an option some families need to consider is having their student repeat a grade level.

In his first year in office, Chambers County School Superintendent Casey Chambley stands firm on a campaign promise to be transparent with families, especially when the news is not good. Chambley says 2020 ACAP test scores are dismal. More than 70-percent of elementary students are failing to meet state testing standards. At some schools, it’s closer to 80 and 90-percent. The complete results will be made public next week.

“They take them in reading, math, and science, and right now, our scores are really, really bad. Our county school scores are tough; even at some of our higher-performing elementary schools, they are bad,” said Chambley.

COVID is a significant factor with students bouncing between virtual, classroom, and quarantine. Learning during a pandemic, especially for elementary school kids, continues to be a challenge. Families will receive a detailed breakdown of their student’s scores next week.

“They will see how COVID has been and how that gap has been widened; that’s why we are doing everything we can to protect instructional time,” said Chambley.

The district hired math and reading interventionists for students, reading coaches to help teachers, and implemented new literacy programs.

“So with intervention, we can pluck the kids that need help, take them into small group settings and work with them for 30 to 45 minutes a day. Some kids will need more plucking; others will need less. We will do it five days a week if we have to and work it down. We hope we can get the student back into the classroom at the level they need to be at,” said Chambley.

Parents are asked to support teachers as much as possible as an intervention at home is critical too. Chambley says it’s as easy as reading several books to your kids at home every day. Also, make studying and homework a priority. If necessary, families may consider having students repeat their grade level, understanding many students are struggling to reach benchmarks during COVID-19. Repeating a grade should not be regarded as embarrassing or stigmatized, says the superintendent.

“I have told a lot of parents this year, and you won’t hear many superintendents say this if you feel like your kid didn’t get what they needed, especially in the early grades, hold them. Holding kids is not a terrible idea. We need to get out of the box of thinking if you repeat a grade, it’s because you aren’t smart; it’s because you haven’t established your foundation yet. Some kids just get it later,” said Chambley.

Next year, parents won’t have an option as Alabama’s Literacy Act kicks in. Third-grade students not reading on grade level based on state test scores they take this year will be held until they are ready to move onto 4th grade through remediation programs. Chambley says grade inflation is a problem in schools all over the United States. He says it’s hurting high school students and graduates looking to go to college. While they have a 3.0 GPA, some are scoring low on the ACT and other college entrance exams.

“What the law is attempting to do is stop the problem before it gets too big. By the time they get to 8th grade, and we find out they can’t read, it’s hard to go back,” said Chambley.

Chambley says Chambers County Schools aren’t alone. Several school districts are struggling with testing scores as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. He says he is committed to doing all he can to help students catch up and teachers. In addition, he’s asking for parental support.

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