During the pandemic, school districts must deal with uncertainty, not ignore it or take shots in the dark.
Remote Classes Are in Session for More School Districts, But Attendance Plans Are Still Absent
Six weeks into COVID-19 school closures, and at roughly the midpoint of the final academic quarter of this school year, we are stepping back to assess what schools and districts have accomplished—and the gaps in learning opportunities that remain—as students, teachers, and families prepare to close out 2019-20.
Districts have come a long way in this time. Over the past month, the percent of districts reviewed that provide a comprehensive remote learning plan (one which includes access to formal curriculum, instruction, and feedback on student work) has increased from 5 percent to 44 percent.
Assuming districts’ attention will soon turn to commencement celebrations, summer learning, and fall contingency planning, it is not clear how much more progress will be made on remote learning this school year.
The districts that embarked quickly on ambitious remote learning plans may be in the best position to succeed in 2020-21. They will be able to build on the lessons learned from this spring about how to support students and teachers in remote learning. They will be able to strengthen their systems, expectations, and communications in preparation for future remote learning scenarios—which could include continued closures or partial re-openings next school year.
Also notable is that 100 percent of districts reviewed are providing access to educational resources, and almost all—96 percent—are providing formal curriculum.
Note: Out of 82 districts reviewed.
Districts reviewed make steady progress on all of our independently tracked measures of student progress. About two-thirds of all districts require teacher check-ins and feedback on student work. A little less than half assign grades.
Note: Out of 82 districts reviewed.
Districts Are Settling into Remote Learning Plan Delivery While Clarifying Expectations
The movement we did see this week may be due to more states’ confirmation that schools would not reopen this year. A few districts—Detroit and Sacramento are two examples—rolled out new, comprehensive plans this week. The Motor City released its plan after securing tens of thousands of devices and internet connections for its students. Colorado’s Boulder Valley, which rolled out its comprehensive plan over a month ago, just released plans to assess students now to determine which would benefit from small-group summer school. They plan to reassess students in the summer to determine fall assessment and intervention plans.
We have also seen a few districts now providing more specific guidance that had delegated decision making to schools. Minneapolis Public Schools, which originally implemented remote learning through teachers designing and distributing curriculum, strengthened the articulation of a centralized plan for expectations, grading, and instructional time.
The majority of districts that led the pack in remote learning planning, such as the NYC Department of Education, Miami-Dade County, Duval County, and Fort Worth ISD, seem to have settled into executing and not changing their plans, likely anticipating to stay the course through the end of the school year.
But they still have problems to solve. And some districts might not be collecting the data they need to identify and solve gaps that persist in their remote learning plans.
Districts Are Still Largely Absent in Tracking Student Attendance
There was little movement in attendance tracking systems—indicators we just started to track in our last report. Just 16 of 82 districts reviewed (20 percent) report using a system to track attendance, up from just 14 districts (17 percent) since last week.
Districts that track attendance are using the data to identify, locate, and problem solve access issues for missing students. All three large school districts reviewed from Southeast Florida—Broward County, Miami-Dade County, and Palm Beach County—are monitoring attendance.
Broward County is treating its district as one “virtual school” and tracks attendance through online logins and student work submission. Its daily average attendance is at 90 percent. Staff are reaching out to families to solve technology access issues for those who lack of laptops and internet connections. According to a video message from Superintendent Robert Runcie, the district's social workers have received 4,400 referrals for their services and provided over 9,700 interventions to students and their families since returning from spring break on March 30.
Miami-Dade reports that 99 percent of its students have logged onto their online platform, and that average daily attendance is around 92 percent. Superintendent Alberto Calvalho has previously called out the “digital desert” that many Miami-Dade students face. He is now directing staff to use this data to call and conduct home visits for missing students and provide laptops and training to parents.
States can require districts to collect attendance data that helps ensure all students have access to remote learning. However, some, such as Ohio, have directed districts to mark all students present. Other states, such as Georgia, have waived state attendance policies during the crisis, or signaled to districts that they will not be penalized in average daily attendance calculations for funding purposes, as Missouri has done.
Colorado has encouraged districts to track attendance, but not required it. Some Colorado districts in our database (Denver and Boulder) are tracking attendance, while others, such as the ones spotlighted by the Denver Post, are not.
Wyoming has set a statewide expectation that districts monitor attendance during remote learning and secured commitments from all 48 districts that they will do so. Wyoming appears to be one of the standard-bearers when it comes to setting clear expectations for remote learning and following up to make sure districts meet its expectations.
While states may play a role in attendance reporting, simply tracking attendance data provides invaluable information to districts’ efforts to ensure all students can access remote learning. We hope to see more districts piloting attendance tracking and response strategies in the remaining school year.
For many students returning to class in the coming weeks, it will be back to school online.
States are dumping the instructional planning burden during an unprecedented modern pandemic onto teachers’ laps (or laptops).