‘Unfinished learning’ emphasized at Academics and Equity meeting

As Academics and Equity had its second reopening schools working group meeting, where assessments fall, what educators should know when students return and more drove the discussion Wednesday.

While the group began its second round of conversation, Monica Gant, associate secretary of the Delaware Department of Education, reminded members how they had described academics — the word “learning” surfaced a lot.

“I want to encourage us to think about learning as unfinished learning. The learning that students have experienced over the last couple of months has really been unfinished,” she said, meaning that students don’t have those skills yet, rather than emphasizing the loss of learning.

This week many districts and charters began releasing surveys to gain more information on remote learning. As the educators prepare for next year, many agreed it would be necessary for determining how to address students’ needs when they return to class.

“I think information that we need is directly from students and families and the community,” said Dr. Lisa Lawson, executive director of special education and support services for Brandywine School District. “I think in our own communities it would be most helpful if we had voices from inside the homes where the remote learning was taking place.”

From the special education viewpoint, Rebecca Vitelli, a teacher in Colonial School District, said teachers need to know what those families and students need in order to be successful, too.

“As we know some of our students have been … a little more challenging, to instruct successfully over a screen,” she said. “There’s been a lot of parent coaching and family involvement, especially being in pre-school, and it’s been wonderful but we’re also very aware of the special education population needing something different, needing a little bit more physical materials, needing a different type of instruction and how can we best support those students needs at this time?”

For Caitlyn Thomas, the student representative on the group, the last few months have been stressful for her.

“I know that it’s not just me speaking. I’m very lucky in the fact that I like school. However, I still find it very hard to sit down and do my work,” she said.

Even if students were able to participate in the activities, some didn’t, noted Loretta Greig, a parent representative. She said there has to be accountability for those who had access.

Other students may not have participated for a variety of reasons: from taking care of siblings or working to help support their families, to lack of access to necessary resources.

As they look ahead, Ashley Giska, assistant superintendent for Laurel School District who is co-chairman for the group, said that independent evaluations on students and differentiated learning will be important going into next year.

“I think it’s going to be important to focus on the individual student in the assessment process as we start a new school year because what I think would be a mistake is to just say, ‘OK, well the first three months of this year are going to be the last three months of last year,’” he said.

Rep. Kim Williams said that educators should be able to focus on bringing students back and help them get adjusted once more. From a policy standpoint, there were things legislators could address.

“A couple things we could do is talk about our state assessment, is it really necessary? Or should we be focusing on educating our students? The performance assessment, is it necessary, should we put a moratorium on that? Talk about the time spent on evaluations for our teachers and our admin, … and the inequities in internet,” she said.

Generally, other local assessments would help gather data of where students are.

“What we don’t want is to put educators in a position where they’re forced to make assumptions about students when they come to school,” Mr. Giska said. “And that’s why we really want to consider things about formative and benchmark assessments.”

As a fourth-grade teacher, Stephanie Ingram said it’s important for educators to speak with their colleagues about unfinished learning. Based on assessments, educators also need time to modify learning, she said.

“To find out where the students are, we have to be very selective about the assessments that we use, we need to make sure that the assessments we use are definitely measuring what we need to know,” she said. “We also, as educators, need time to build the relationships with the students before we start to give the assessments so the students are comfortable with us so they can be doing their very best in the assessments.”

Health and Wellness meets Tuesdays, the Academics and Equity working group meets Wednesdays and Operations and Services meets Thursdays. All meetings are scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. and can be streamed on DOE’s Youtube channel.

Public participation is encouraged, though it will be done virtually. Participants may submit public comments to an email address, reopeningideas@doe.k12.de.us, or by voicemail to 302-735-4244. The department will transcribe the comments and post them online, to the department’s website (www.doe.k12.de.us). The comments will be shared across the working groups.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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