Dive Brief:

  • A survey of 344 high school principals from the Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access (IDEA) at the University of California, Los Angeles, Graduate School of Education and Information indicates that during spring building closures, over half of high school principals helped students and their families navigate the healthcare system, connected them with mental wellness support and assisted with housing insecurity issues.
  • Almost one-third provided financial assistance to students and their families, more than two-thirds said their school or district provided meals to family members of students not enrolled in their school, and another 43% assisted students who experienced a death in the family. 
  • The survey, conducted in May and June, also highlights how remote learning exacerbated inequities. Schools already equipped with technology were able to quickly pivot to remote learning, but high-poverty districts were eight times as likely to not have enough technology for a successful transition.

Dive Insight:

Inequities existed prior to the pandemic, but the UCLA survey demonstrates remote learning deepened the divide. For example, 40% of principals said their district did not provide English language learners with any instructional material in their native languages. Over half (55%) say their school provided fewer services for special education students during the school closures than before the pandemic, primarily because those services required in-person contact, but some principals admitted their teachers were not tracking progress toward students’ IEP goals or making online accommodations.

Two-thirds of the principals surveyed say more students failed to keep up with their school work during remote learning than prior to it. Also, nearly half the principals struggled to maintain contact with 10% of their students. These issues were more prevalent in high-poverty districts.

“These findings underscore the critical role schools play in their communities,” John Rogers, education professor and director of IDEA, said in a press release.

Distance learning requires that students have access to Wi-Fi, which is a challenge in rural districts, and they also need the devices necessary to connect, which is more of an issue in high-poverty districts. There is also an equity divide between students whose parents can stay home and support their children through the distance-learning obstacles and those whose parents are unable to stay home.

Best practices for maintaining equity during remote learning includes comprehensive approaches to formative assessments. The California Department of Education Guidance on Diagnostic and Formative Assessments recommends teachers use rubrics to clarify expectations and give feedback, journals, short essays, discussions and pre-tests to assess students’ understanding.

Lessons learned from school closures due to Hurricane Katrina also offer insights into how districts can recover after pandemic closures. After Hurricane Katrina, students returned about two years below grade level. Students in elementary schools that focused on skill recovery scored poorly on state accountability tests, but teaching students at grade-level brought the scores back up. “Spiraling” curriculum methods in high school improved students’ persistence in school and the likelihood of graduating.

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