The July 20, 2020 edition of KET’s Kentucky Tonight was totally dedicated to the issues and challenges Kentucky’s public school system faces as it struggles to configure a fall learning season.
- Will schools open normally in person?
- Will schools use a blend of in person and distance learning, now being called Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) by Kentucky’s educators?
- Or, will COVID-19 concerns wind up dictating that all schools only operate in NTI mode?
- Will many Kentucky kids get further left behind in an NTI environment?
At present, there are few clear answers to these questions for some school districts, while in other places plans have been at least roughly laid out but still could be up-ended if COVID-19 rates grow.
Kentucky’s largest school system, the Jefferson County Public School District (JCPS), which includes Louisville, has already decided to only operate in NTI mode for at least the first six weeks of the new school year.
Other districts, including the state’s second largest, the Fayette County Public School District, are also going exclusively NTI, at least to start.
But, how will all of this really work for students?
Some of the history and projections are not very encouraging.
In the case of Fayette County, after COVID-19 forced a shut down in person schooling, the student participation rate in NTI dropped from 85% during the first week of implementation to only 58% eight weeks later.
That represents a whole lot of students who weren’t learning anything as the school system closed out its troubled 2019-20 school year.
And, parents and teachers knew things were not always going well in Fayette County. A video presentation of slides from a Fayette County School Board planning session held on July 13, 2020 showed disturbingly high percentages of parents indicating that NTI didn’t run that well for their kids after COVID-19 shut down in person schooling.
Per the board’s slides:
- 32% of families surveyed disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that their child was challenged by the classwork
- 32% of families surveyed disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that their child learned new material during NTI
- 29% of families surveyed disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that the assignments helped their child to learn the material
- 44% of families surveyed disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that their child found the assignments interesting.
- 21% of families surveyed disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that their child was ready for the next grade level.
Most disturbing, the district’s employees (predominantly teachers) more strongly disagreed about readiness for the next grade.
- 33% of school employees disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that the majority of my students are prepared for the next grade level.
Teachers were also unhappy with how well students engaged with the NTI classes.
- 39% of school employees disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that my students were engaged in my class.
Also at that July planning meeting, the Herald-Leader reports the Fayette County superintendent Manny Caulk indicated there is no substitute for being in the classroom and he knew students would regress.
Others agree with Caulk.
It’s reported that researchers at the NWEA, the group that does the MAP education diagnostic tests used by many school districts in Kentucky, predict that Kentucky’s students will return in the fall with only 63% to 68% of the normal amount of learning gains in reading and just 37% to 50% of the gains in math found in students who had a full year of in-class instruction. That’s a lot of learning deficit.
And, that brings up some ideas that Kentucky should consider going forward. Those MAP tests from NWEA are already widely (but not universally) used in Kentucky. There are multiple tests throughout the school year, with fairly quick results turn-arounds. Teachers are talking on Twitter about getting valuable information back in time to make useful adjustments to their teaching.
Certainly, every child needs to be assessed in some way this fall for the sorts of learning loss that Caulk and the NWEA are warning us about, and the MAP is designed to do just that. Why not encourage every district to start using MAP so that our state education leaders will have a consistent measure of how much of a make-up problem we face across the state? That could help to shape much more relevant policy going forward.
And, here’s another idea. If all districts are using the MAP, it would be nice if we could substitute the final administration of MAP for the current KPREP testing that was cancelled in the spring of 2020. That would give us some actionable assessment data for teachers along with information that the public deserves to see.
I am told that there will have to be some changes in either the MAP or in rules from Washington before MAP could be used as our state assessment. There also needs to be some alignment checks between MAP and our state standards. But, if districts are using MAP now, that alignment work has probably already been at least partially completed.
If we could use MAP statewide, we could fund that with the funds formerly paying for the KPREP tests in reading, math and science, subjects MAP covers. Maybe this would reduce overall costs while freeing up some district money for other uses.
One more thought: I wrote recently about Kentucky’s very own experts on distance learning/NTI. They’re at the Barren Academy of Virtual and Expanded Learning (BAVEL). As I sense at least some districts are struggling to form viable, full-year NTI programs, BAVEL sits there with the problem already solved. We just have to get districts to start using this seasoned, 15-years-of-experience, system. It would sure beat trying to reinvent the NTI wheel at over 1,100 different schools from scratch.