Pop quiz on Minnesota’s distance learning in pandemic

As a parent I can attest that our rampant rush to online/distance learning has been the best of time and worst of times – and I’m down to just one kid at home and she’s in high school. If this had happened 10 years ago, I’d have three in grade school. Thank you and good luck to parents in those shoes now!

MinnPost is reporting on attendance in the school…

“Obviously attendance is important, learning is important. That’s still very, very true,” said Wendy Hatch, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Education. “But I think our responsibility around attendance — and making sure that we’re checking in on students and hearing from students — has changed.”

Given this wiggle room, many schools have been taking a two-fold approach: marking down absences and monitoring student engagement — by tracking who’s logging in to online learning platforms, who’s turning in completed paper assignments, or who’s not communicating with their teachers at all.

This new ad hoc system relies heavily on teachers taking initiative to keep tabs on all of their students, to ensure no one falls through the cracks. And, in some cases, early attendance and engagement numbers show thousands of students are still being left behind.

Our school is on its second way of tracking attendance. There are hassles but it’s going – but that hasn’t been the case for all students.

Some kids are waiting for materials…

Minneapolis Public Schools has built out its attendance record-keeping to track students who are caught in limbo — those waiting for a device or other materials, so they can engage in distance learning — along with those who are participating in distance learning each day.

On students’ first day of distance learning, April 6, more than 3,000 students were still marked as “waiting on materials.” By April 16, that count had only dropped to 2,777 students.

A Pretty big percentage are being marked absent…

With these caveats in mind, about 20 percent of students were marked absent on April 6. Nearly two weeks later, on April 16, 27 percent of students were marked absent.

Over in St Paul…

In the St. Paul Public Schools district, data for week one of distance learning (April 6-9) show just 83 percent of students had checked in online.

“That’s the only data we have,” wrote Kevin Burns, a district spokesperson, in response to a request for student attendance and engagement data for the first week.

And in Windom…

In Lee Calrson’s experience, it’s a minimum threshold that his district, Windom Public Schools, has surpassed in its effort to track daily check-ins with each student through its advisory model.

While his primary title is secondary English teacher, he also has an advisory group — as do all of the other teachers in his building — that he’s responsible for checking in with on a routine basis. During distance learning, he’s been hosting a daily Google chat with these students and entering whom he’s not connecting with in a Google spreadsheet that’s shared with building and district leaders, to better coordinate follow-up outreach efforts.

This more personalized check-in strategy keeps the focus on student well-being and engagement. For instance, Carlson says he had a student contact him late on a Sunday evening to say he’d been preoccupied with waiting for the results of a COVID test.

“[That student] needed to hear, ‘I’m really sorry you’ve been sick. And I’ll follow up to make sure school knows,” Carlson said, noting distance learning amidst a pandemic requires educators to “be flexible and recognize we all need to do what we can to help out.”

What makes me a little nervous is that if we’re having this much trouble with attendance, I worry about how the learning is going. Do students have the tools they need? Are the teachers equipped to make the transition to remote learning? What can we do this summer to prepare them for next fall, just in case? Are the students (and really everyone) getting the mental health support they need?

It seems like the larger school districts could borrow a page from Windom’s book.

This entry was posted in education, MN and tagged by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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