Porterville Unified works to lessen learning loss

Jermaine Johnson II

Students are still struggling with distance learning, but PUSD is working to keep them engaged

PORTERVILLE – As some students approach one year of not seeing the inside of a classroom, the negative effects of distance learning have been apparent. Although some kids are managing well, the Porterville Unified School District (PUSD) are discussing methods to mitigate learning loss.

At their Jan. 28 meeting, the school board heard a report analyzing learning loss throughout the district. Every year PUSD students participate in California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) testing for grades three through eight, and eleven. The purpose of the assessment is to track each grade level and compare a students progression/regression from year to year. It also allows the district to assess the data, analyze each grade’s performance and adjust the curriculum accordingly.

The ongoing pandemic introduced a new variable the district had to consider when analyzing the results. Tests were canceled last school year since they are normally done during spring. That forced the district to rely on scores from other assessments throughout this year and are compared to CAASP results from the 2018-2019 school year. Testing is also a lot different when it has to be done remotely. For English language arts, there was 14% learning loss throughout the district. For math there was a 2% learning loss, which are the two main subjects the district focuses on.

There are a variety of issues that contribute to those numbers, but according to PUSD public information officer Jason Pommier, the biggest issue for some of the rural communities throughout the county has been infrastructure for internet access, especially when compared to school districts in bigger counties like Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“When you look at the situation overall, what do you do with foster youth or homeless students that don’t have access to the internet? How do you get them to handle distance learning?” Pommier asked.

The district has been working to improve their WiFi access and have added cell towers at Porterville High School and Granite Hills High School to serve students in the rural parts of the district. They’re close to 100% coverage, but there are still some small areas that do not have access.

PUSD is also expanding their focus on the social-emotional needs of students which directly affects performance in the classroom.

“Some of the kids are shutting down. They’re not even learning because of the social emotional side, they’re not able to handle a Zoom environment,” Pommier said.

The district still has administrators who are doing home visits with students who are struggling with attendance or with participation during class time. More students are also getting increased one on one engagement with counselors and classified staff members to help further the connection and get to the root of the issue causing the struggles.

“If we can address that need where now the student feels more comfortable and we feel like we can have a plan in place for them, then that student will succeed because we’ve addressed that social emotional side,” he added.

The best solution would be to get students back in classrooms, which has always been the main goal for PUSD. They’ve been able to bring back small cohorts of students that are struggling the most with distance learning such as foster and homeless youth, special education, and English learners. Although it is only for a few hours per week, those students have responded favorably to the hybrid model which has allowed the district to take note of what methods will and won’t work when it’s time for more students to return.

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