Dive Brief:

  • A survey of 5,659 educators by Fishbowl, a community app for professionals, found 35% of respondents reporting online class attendance was as low as 0 to 25% in the wake of school closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, and 55% saying less than half of their students were attending. 
  • The survey indicates Michigan has the highest rate of online absences among states with at least 100 respondents, with 62% saying less than a quarter of their students attend remote classes. More than 40% of teachers surveyed in North Carolina, Ohio and California also say remote class attendance is low.
  • New Jersey and Texas, on the other hand, had the highest rates of attendance, with a majority of teachers in those states reporting over 50% of their students logged on for classes. 

Dive Insight:

When school buildings closed as a result of COVID-19’s spread, many districts prioritized ensuring meal distribution for students on free and reduced-priced lunches. Many also had to figure out how to shift students lacking home access to devices or the internet to a virtual learning model with their peers in an attempt to address inequities exacerbated by closures.

Even in families that do have that access, educators are also toeing the line of not adding additional pressure to families, as many parents are now working from home or contending with layoffs and tight finances on top of now having to play a direct role in the management of their child’s education. Now that more schools are shifting to virtual or remote learning, in many cases, online classes for the remainder of the year in some states don’t count toward a grade, and students are instead being given pass/fail results. 

In Michigan, where the above survey indicates attendance is low, some districts have gone to pass/fail, while others won’t lower grades for students as long as they were already passing the class as of the beginning of the school closure on March 16. Schools in the state must continue to provide online education through the official end of the school year in June. 

Illinois is taking a similar path. Its guidelines discourage districts from issuing Fs or lowering students’ grades as a result of online learning, with the Illinois State Board of Education instead recommending teachers give pass or incomplete grades (different from pass/fail) and not punish students for lack of participation. Incomplete grades can be made up when remote learning ends in the state, and students may have the opportunity to make up lost learning during the summer or fall. 

Districts that already had blended learning options in place may have been more prepared for the transition, according to Bruce Friend, chief operating officer of the Aurora Institute, formerly the International Association for K-12 Online Learning. But for those thrust into an online learning environment for the first time, tracking attendance also remains complicated. Even if teachers were to attempt to keep track of attendance, it’s difficult to know how long students are logged on. 

Some online learning apps do track that data, but other online learning models focus on work completion and quality. Taking a cue from higher education, the results of the assignments can often indicate who was in class — and paying attention — and who wasn’t.

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