In a recent article by Education Week, it was pointed out that there is a larger than normal percentage of students who have been receiving failing grades on their progress reports and report cards. According to the article, the primary reason for this national drop in grades is due to virtual learning.
Challenges of Virtual Learning
Without the ability for students to gather together in person in the same physical space as their teachers and peers, there have been a number of challenges that have arisen contributing to the lower grades this semester.
- Lack of wifi and proper technology – many students (especially from lower-income families) lack the ability to have the appropriate technical needs in order to participate in online learning. This is compounded if there are multiple students in the same household.
- Exponentially more distractions – learning from home (when it is not a norm) comes with a major increase in distractions from what the students experience in a classroom. Some of the primary distractions can be pets, other family members, and personal items (such as toys or games).
- Lower Attendance Rates – with multiple students using a single device in many households, students have to take turns on who gets to attend class each day. There is also more flexibility from a parent’s perspective to travel and miss a day here and there because after all, it’s only a virtual class and they can easily make it up.
“I watch these kids get more and more frustrated, and more detached, because even if they wanted to learn everything they could, things are getting in the way of that that they have no control over. And neither do we.”-Matt Holden, Teacher, Upstate New York
All of these challenges and the recognition that virtual learning has unexpectedly devastated students’ grades has caused school systems across the country to reevaluate the grading systems they are using. Educators are voicing louder than usual their concern over the long term impact the current grading system will have on their students future education as well as mental and emotional health.
Preparing for Second Semester
Now with the problems identified and staring school boards in the face, the question becomes, what can we do to fix it?
“The question is not, how can we get these kids who are close to failing to not fail. It’s, what is not working for those kids? How can we do a better job for them?”-James MacIndoe, English Teacher and Department Chair, Jefferson County, CO
One of the simplest answers, yet presents it’s own set of challenges, is to bring the students back into the classroom. However, that ‘simple’ solution comes with its own set of challenges and questions in the midst of a pandemic.
- How do we bring students back into the classroom safely?
- Can we practice social distancing?
- How do we track and monitor potential COVID-19 cases on campus?
- Can we get all the students to wear their masks all day during school?
- Do we have the funds needed in our budget to provide the necessary sanitation supplies to keep the school clean and disinfected?
In surveying schools that opened and remained open for the first half of 2020, Educator Resources gained insight into what successful schools implemented that worked.
- Communication was by far the most successful tool in remaining open. Our schools indicated that timely, transparent, and relevant communication with their staff, faculty, students, and families was paramount to remaining open. Schools created a team atmosphere whereby every member of the community understood their role in keeping the school safe and open. Additionally, the school was transparent in sharing the number of COVID cases in order to give families assurance that they were making informed decisions.
- Social distancing was combined with expanding classroom options to outdoor spaces, gymnasiums, and cafeterias; staggered start and end times; reduced class transitions; signage and markings on floors, and reminders throughout the communication process.
- Tracking, monitoring, and tracing potential and active cases was certainly the largest challenge for the administration and nursing staff. Schools that used daily health checkers found that monitoring the health of anyone on campus via a symptom checker and cumulative dashboard were able to easily monitor the locations and patterns of COVID cases on campus. These easy to use programs allow schools to trace real-time status of each member’s health as it relates to COVID and provide information to make informed decisions about opening and closing.
- Mask usage came down to ensuring families remained aware of the requirement that masks were required. Teachers and administrators modeled mask-wearing behaviors, signage reminded of the correct way to wear the masks and school stores offered comfortable masks as options for the families to purchase. Again, communication came in here by educating and created the reminders that we wear our masks to protect others.
- COVID created a financial challenge for schools to adapt to the new sanitary guidelines and adjustments needed to safely operate on campus. Many schools utilized CARES Act Education Funding and continue to monitor whether an additional round of funding will be offered.
Additional means included fundraising, budget reallocations and charging small fees back to the families.
At Educator Resources, we strive to provide valuable resources to our private schools to help their success. We offer several solutions to the current issues created by the pandemic including a data-driven, doctor-managed safety program to help schools identify, manage and track potential COVID cases. The Imhealthytoday Schools Program has helped schools across the country remain open and given them valuable information to communicate effectively with their community to manage the COVID cases and exposure. Additionally, we offer a fundraising platform, the Givedot Program, as well as an affordable telemedicine solution, MedCareComplete.