Since March, when the novel coronavirus threw students across the country into a whole new school routine, a question has hung in the air: Will this period of remote and hybrid learning affect their progress in the long-term?
With the fall semester now well underway, area school administrators say they’re prioritizing their assessment of potential learning gaps, which occur when a student’s academic progress falls behind the standard for their age or grade level.
The long-term implications of remote learning are difficult to predict, according to the administrators. But they say they’re closely monitoring progress, and despite challenges, students have adapted well to these new learning environments.
“We had the typical summer break, plus we haven’t seen them since March, plus we have the global pandemic, so that’s definitely going to affect families and affect students,” said Jeremy Rathbun, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for the Monadnock Regional School District. “So we weren’t necessarily sure how they were going to come back to us.”
The district, which encompasses Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury, Swanzey and Troy, assesses students both formally and informally throughout the year, Rathbun said. Teachers review each pupil’s file and previous progress in the fall, and students receive individual help during a scheduled period called “WIN Time,” which stands for “What I Need.”
In the district’s four elementary schools that receive federal funding for student support from Title I, staff are focusing on reaching students when they’re not at school by providing extra support on Zoom, Rathbun said. With in-person classes now reduced to about 10 or 12 students, he said instructors are also able to devote more personalized attention to each child when they’re in the classroom.
“We’re seeing kind of the typical gaps coming in,” Rathbun said. “But you know, it’s kind of counterbalanced with the fact that we have much smaller classes in the hybrid [model], and teachers are able to spend more time with each kid.”
The Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District has also been focusing on individualization, Superintendent Reuben Duncan said in an email. Educators there are using the hybrid learning schedule, with four days of in-class instruction and one day of remote learning, as an opportunity to develop personalized learning plans, he said.
In addition to scheduled academic support time at Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School and Conant High School, the district also invested in some new online tools and programs geared toward student support.
“We assumed there may be some larger gaps than normal this year because of the strain and stress of the COVID-19 pandemic. We assessed as we normally do, but we also planned for some small review units,” Duncan said. “We also implemented a new math program at the elementary level, which gave our teachers and students access to mini review units that were already developed.”
Students there completed standardized assessments in October, Duncan said, which will help the district establish benchmarks to create learning goals. The data from those assessments are not yet available.
In general, the pandemic has delayed the assessment process, administrators said.
“It certainly has taken longer to assess students as we are trying to do in person testing on the days hybrid students are in school. ... We have had to do some remote assessing with students who are in our remote classes,” Dotty Frazier, assistant superintendent of N.H. School Administrative Unit 29, said in an email. “Families have been cooperative in supporting this, but it is a challenge to administer assessments online.”
Unit 29, which includes Chesterfield, Harrisville, Keene, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson and Westmoreland, assesses students in kindergarten through eighth grade each fall with a platform called aimswebPLUS, which focuses on their reading and math skills.
Frazier said that process is still ongoing, so it’s too soon to say for sure if more students are coming into the year with gaps this fall, but early indications show gaps emerging in math particularly. Like Monadnock and Jaffrey-Rindge, districts in Unit 29 set aside time for extra academic support throughout the school day.
Though the shift has come with challenges, administrators say that students are getting used to the technology and the new culture of remote and hybrid learning. Duncan said he has seen students become more “resilient and flexible” during this period.
“As long as the district continues to put their needs first, I believe our learners will experience growth and overall success. This is not a time to be passive or maintain the status quo,” Duncan wrote. “We as a district have been working over the past few years to enhance our ability to personalize learning and we are using this time to continue those efforts.”