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South Valley Journal

How will COVID-19 impact the future of K-12 education?

May 27, 2020 12:04PM ● By Julie Slama

With students no longer in classrooms, educators now question what the impact of COVID-19 online education will be in the new academic year. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Many educators say students’ academic retention will plunge greater than that of the typical summer slide from the prolonged COVID-19-induced school closure — and preliminary research is supporting that.

NWEA, a not-for-profit organization that supports students and educators worldwide with assessments and research services, studied what summer learning loss can tell educators about the potential impact of school closures has on student academic achievement.

In their April 2020 findings, NWEA researchers concluded, “students will return in fall 2020 with roughly 70% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year. However, in mathematics, students are likely to show much smaller learning gains, returning with less than 50% of the learning gains and in some grades, nearly a full year behind what we would observe in normal conditions.”

While many school districts plan to give assessments to students in the fall to determine the actual amount of reviewing and reteaching that may be necessary, Mathnasium of Cottonwood Heights owner Mila Gleason said the impact may be even greater with students who already are struggling.

“Some of these students may not have a structure in place or a support system and are needed to help with their family situations,” she said. “We may see an increased divide.”

That may be from helping care for younger siblings to working to help sustain the family, leaving little time for homework. Students may also not have the additional income needed to attend college in the future or the ability or time to seek out counselors to help figure out college financial aid packages, researchers said.

Hillcrest High Principal Greg Leavitt said it’s been a challenge.

“This is something we didn’t plan for in this massive way, to have school shut down for more than a day or two,” he said. “It’s a different kind of challenge, foreign to all us, and there’s no way we can deliver the product we normally do. Our teachers are teaching 30 minutes versus 70 minutes in normal classrooms. Some students are doing well and keeping up the rigor. Others we’re trying to keep motivated and learning; it’s a different world right now.”

Park Lane Elementary Principal Justin Jeffery said his staff is following up with students who haven’t checked in on a Zoom meeting or haven’t grabbed a packet, with emails, phone calls and even with a certified letter.

 "We all know this is not the same as instruction in our classrooms, but what our teachers don’t want are huge learning losses,” he said. “We haven’t been in this situation before, but the silver lining is that we all will be better with teaching with technology and offering blended learning. Many of us haven’t pushed to learn everything until now, when we’re forced to, and so we’re becoming much more tech-savvy. I’ve never done social media so I’m finally coming into the 21st century.”

Utah’s schools may have an advantage over other states, Utah Assistant Superintendent of Student Learning Darin Nielsen said.

“We’ve worked to provide technology to our schools throughout our state,” he said. “We’ve infused money to increase the number of devices and training in distance learning. We have a real emphasis on blending learning.”

West Kearns Elementary dual immersion third-grade teacher Daisy Reyes said the soft closure caught her off guard, but her new norm is teaching online from her living room.

“I’ve been continuing to read the story we were reading in class, being consistent, so students can look forward to this time every day,” she said. “It’s ideal to be there in person, but the benefit of technology is that we’re still able to make some face-to-face connections through the screen and we are all learning how to use technology more.”

Indian Hills science teacher Rachel Afualo said that she had to step up her learning when it came to Canvas.

“This has helped me become more open-minded to digital learning and gain more resources as a teacher,” she said. “I can create labs online and use them in the future, when a student is absent. And we can look at the way we’re teaching and discover more ways to interact with students and find more opportunities and platforms to connect with them. It’s a different territory and I’m learning to be more flexible working with it.”

Granite School District Director of Technology Chris Larsen said that his school tech specialists and media center specialists have been reaching out to help teachers and parents, helping them learn digital platforms so they can connect with students.

“Our teachers know how to teach, and in a matter of days, have taken their curriculum to provide it to students face to face through technology so students can continue to learn,” he said. “We are all making this the best situation for families and kids.”

Larsen said that more than 20,000 Chromebooks have been checked out to Granite School District families. Murray School District’s secondary schools already are on a 1:1 device ratio, but the District also checked out Chromebooks for younger students. Canyons District also checked out Chromebooks to families who indicated a need and worked with providers to provide free internet access as a temporary solution to the crisis.

This may lead to innovation in education, something many educators applaud, like Summit Academy seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher Natalie Sluga.

“A lot of positive can come from this,” she said. “We can tap into creativity, we can use more platforms, more apps, more ways and ideas in education.”

The combination of asynchronous online learning tools (such as reading material through Google Classroom) with synchronous face-to-face video instruction could turn into the new norm, educators said.

Butler Elementary Principal Jeff Nalwalker said that now there is different sense of urgency in learning to teach online.

“We are making sure our community understands what teachers are doing and doing admirably,” he said. “We had teachers who were timid to try new things, jumping out of their comfort zone to learn new technology. There’s no way to duplicate the experience of our professional instructors in person, but this is giving us an opportunity to look at blending learning opportunities in elementary school. We could see asynchronous delivery and then doing it together in a synchronous model that would allow more in-depth discussions and new opportunities for learning.”

Nalwalker also said that he would like to look into checking out Chromebooks to students to use during their elementary years.

“Students will have greater access and can empower their own learning. It can become a habit that is integrated into daily routines,” he said.

Families also may play a greater part of students’ education, Altara Elementary Principal Nicole Svee Magann said.

“Families have slowed down and family dinner has returned for the majority,” she said. “There’s more time they are connecting together, playing games and interacting with one another. Parents are stepping into teaching roles and are appreciating what teachers do more and are working together to ensure students are learning.”