When Geneseo schools opened the doors to its five buildings for the first day of classes on August 17, students and staff throughout the district enjoyed refreshingly normal and traditional learning environments.
The COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down and educational institutions were no exception. However, despite facing the same challenges that confronted schools around the world, recent data shows that Geneseo students have not only reached but exceeded pre-COVID levels in English language arts and mathematics on two key metrics for indicating a student’s future academic success.
In 2018-19, the district’s benchmark year, Geneseo’s English Language Arts (ELA) proficiency scores on the Illinois Assessment of Readiness (IAR) were 28.0% at the third-grade level (meets or exceeds) compared to 36.4% statewide. Proficiency scores were 29% in math at the fifth-grade level, compared to 29.8% statewide. The 2021-22 scores show that Geneseo improved to 40% in ELA at the third-grade level (33% statewide) and 39% in math at the fifth-grade level (24% statewide).
Additionally, the district’s SAT proficiency scores returned to 2018-19 levels.
“It’s incredibly encouraging to see that as a district, we’ve improved our scores and we’re now ahead of state averages in those two areas despite the challenges of COVID,” states Superintendent Dr. Adam Brumbaugh.
“The expectation for student growth during the pandemic naturally decreased,” he continues. “The disruptions to receiving a traditional education, as well as the impact on social and emotional learning, made it difficult on everyone. To see how far we’ve come despite those things is very gratifying.”
Dr. Brumbaugh is quick to credit the teachers and staff throughout the district for their efforts over the last two and a half years, citing a recent PDK International survey that indicates appreciation for local school districts is at its highest level ever.
“It speaks to the important connection and partnership that exists between families and teachers and schools,” he notes. “We need to work together to ensure our students are successful. Everyone was frustrated during the pandemic, and rightfully so. But our staff never stopped doing what they were doing and doing it to the best of their ability.”
Dr. Brumbaugh believes that the many changes made during the pandemic have made Geneseo schools better. In the last couple of years, the district hired five instructional coaches to help teachers sharpen their skills and be the best educators they can be. Extra emphasis has been placed on collaborative efforts through regular discussions amongst grade level teams and elementary and middle school teachers having ongoing conversations during planning periods to help identify what is essential in district curriculum. Initiatives and resources through high-quality professional development have also expanded.
“When you look at the best schools across the nation, those districts are doing research-based initiatives that we are now beginning to either implement for the first time or take to the next level,” explains Dr. Brumbaugh. “That’s a credit to our teachers, who give it 100 percent and want to get better, and to our Board of Education who have supported the initiatives financially.”
This year, the district is putting an emphasis on bringing accuracy to grading and assessments, providing more effective feedback to students, and recognizing student growth over time. In the coming months, the district will be exploring additional initiatives to take learning to the next level, including providing staff at the high school more time to collaborate, better defining success criteria for a given unit of study, and construction of the Career and Technical Education Center at GHS.
“We viewed the pandemic as an opportunity to get better,” states Dr. Brumbaugh. “Our staff has committed to making positive, transformative changes that are making a huge impact on student achievement.”
Of course, Geneseo’s increased proficiency also shines a spotlight on its students.
“It shows that kids are resilient,” concludes Dr. Brumbaugh. “They want to learn innately. We sometimes put too much pressure on students to get an A in a class or be on a certain track. Kids need to simply explore, grow and have fun along the way. Those are the types of opportunities we need to provide so that coming to school is enjoyable and engaging. We’re working hard to do that and if we do provide the right learning environment and support for our students, the sky's the limit for our district.”