Students struggling in distance learning

Elementary students, with some having returned to in-person instruction, are faring better than middle and high school students who have little hope of returning to class this school year

VISALIA – Visalia Unified students continue to struggle, especially in math, as they approach the one-year mark since most attended school for in-person instruction.

At its Jan. 26 meeting, the Visalia Unified School District Board heard a report on student progress through the fall semester. Andre Pecina, Administrator of Curriculum and Instruction for VUSD, said nationwide, reading has improved in grades 1-4 and has remained relatively consistent in grades 5-8 compared to historical averages, according to an October study by Curriculum Associates. Students are making greater improvements in math this fall with more students being at grade level in each grade when compared to prior years.

VUSD elementary students seem to be faring well with online instruction in terms of reading. Less than one-third of students were reading at or near grade level by the Sept. 11 marking period with that number slightly improving to 34% before the winter break, numbers comparable to nationwide averages. Pecina noted the largest areas of need were in reading comprehension and vocabulary.

VUSD students are not faring as well in math. Only 16% of students were at or near grade level by Sept. 11 and then made huge gains doubling that number to 23% by the winter break. Unfortunately, that was still below the national average. That means more than 80% of students are at least one grade level behind and 42% are at least two grade levels behind. Numbers of operation and measurements were the areas of greatest need.

Middle school students seem to be having the most difficulty with online learning. Students passing all of their classes in the fall semester fell from 82-83% in 2018 and 2019 to 61% in 2020. The number of students failing one or more classes increased from about 17% the last two years to 38% last semester. Most failures were in ELA and math.

High school students had a less significant drop with the number of students passing their classes falling from 74% to 65%. The number of students failing one or more classes increased from 25% the last two years to 35% last semester. Most failures were in math and science.

VUSD parent Nick Mascia thanked the board for discussing the issue of learning loss but said the presentation lacked key information about the district’s response to other issues such as students not logging on and the fact that students are already getting a streamlined version of the normal curriculum.

“How is that acceptable and what is the district going to do to address this?” Mascia asked.

Board member Megan Soleno Casebeer was concerned with what affect the failing grades at the high school level might have on official transcripts used for college admissions. She said most adults would show poor work performance on a job assessment if their effectiveness now was compared to pre-pandemic life.

“Clearly its within our district where we have dropped the ball,” she said. “I would hate for these students to be left with failing grades that stick with them forever on their transcripts.”

Brandon Gridiron, equity director for the district, said PowerSchool, the district’s online platform for grades, allows the district to identify who is struggling and what type of interventions they need at each grade level, content level and each student. Cardoza said there are still credit recovery programs at each high school and the district is offering many more opportunities for students to correct grades during the semester.

The numbers were compiled by the district’s iReady program, an instruction and assessment system where students are not monitored during testing. Jacqui Gaebe questioned the accuracy of the data knowing students can access whatever information they want while taking a test.

“Now that [come students are] back, is there talk of getting assessments while they are in class to get that data?,” Gaebe asked.

Doug Cardoza, assistant superintendent of instruction, said the district understands the gaps in iReady and will look at other information, such as principals and district administrators working together to analyze the data coupled with teacher input.

Board member Walta Gamoian said teachers know their students and understand who is struggling and what type of remediation they need.

“Good teachers are looking at each individual child and seeing a real weakness somewhere,” she said. “It is dangerous to go purely on data, anway. Appreciate we are constantly adjusting on how to do it better.”

The prolonged pandemic is not only affecting attendance and achievement, but enrollment as well. At the Jan. 12 meeting, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Dedi Somavia said the district saw enrollment drop 600 students, mostly in transitional kindergarten and kindergarten compared to last school year. She said the primary reason for the drop was not concerns about the pandemic but rather the way in which instruction was delivered.

“With virtual learning, many parents decided to hold their students out so we have seen low numbers in those grade levels,” she said.

Start typing and press Enter to search