The school board closed the year with a meeting that heard a great report on the graduation rate at the high school, but a dismal report on how virtual learning is not reaching a number of students effectively. They also spent big on a sorely-needed new telephone/communication system for all schools during their regular December meeting Thursday and discussed the need for renovations at Pickens High School. See coverage of virtual learning report below. See this week's print or online editions for coverage of other topics discussed.
Students falling behind with virtual classes
A report from the first semester showed that many students are faring poorly and some rarely logging on to the virtual learning classes.
A slide presented at the meeting showed the majority of students above fifth grade who returned to traditional classrooms during the first semester came back “not on track.”
Director of Curriculum and School Improvement Anita Walker reported to the board that in talking with students who returned during the first semester that the most common reasons were: didn’t like the online classes and technology issues; too difficult; time commitment – parent work schedules; student ability to manage time.
The figures presented at the meeting showed students in kindergarten to 4th grade outperformed older students in online classes.
Walker said kindergarten through 4th grade students did much better than older students as the parents of younger students had to get involved and this led to the students putting in appropriate amounts of time.
Walker told the board that the numbers aren’t good but that “came as no surprise.” She added in a followup e-mail, “We knew the majority of [those who returned] were not performing well because their parents wanted them to return to the traditional setting.”
Walker said initially there were some technical issues and some issues with parents who couldn’t help students, but by and large it was the students not putting in the time. She said they understood that some parents both worked full-time or more than full-time and it was too much to come home and work with a student.
In a followup e-mail, the curriculum director explained the basic style of the classes: “The students log in and proceed with classes at their own pace; however, the program has set due dates. Teachers set checkpoint dates and students must have all assignments up to date on these dates.”
For students still in virtual classes, the grades 6 through 8 performed the worst, according to the figures presented.
High school students have been given some extensions on work so the figures for the highest grade levels aren’t as clearcut.
The poor performance ties closely with lack of time spent in virtual classrooms. For example in sixth grade, among students not on track only 10 percent had put in the recommended one hour per weekday on each class. And more than 30 percent had failed to record 10 or more total hours on individual classes over the entire semester.
A slide presented to the board identified possible causes for the middle grades to do so much worse than younger grades including: K-5 parents must provide more guidance; 6th-8th grade students are given more accountability and less parent support; 6th through 8th grade courses require reading to gain information with fewer videos.
Walker explained that the teachers and schools are taking steps to address the missing students online, “The teachers have been aware that students were not completing assignments. The teachers have reached out to students and parents. The social worker has also contacted parents due to their children not completing their online assignments.
Superintendent Townsend said these are the challenges of educating in a pandemic and emphasized that the teachers are doing everything possible including being available for virtual meetings with parents at night or on weekend.
Walker presented a detailed report to get the message out that unless there are health concerns, students who are falling behind will do better if they will return to the traditional classrooms.
The efforts to get students back on campus are bearing fruit with 894 students using virtual learning in the first semester but that number expected to be well below 600 when the second semester opens on January 6.
Despite the poor results among many students, Walker said in the followup e-mail, that “I don't know that we cannot offer virtual learning as an option if the pandemic continues.”