A recent update on the status of remote learning in School District 65 raised some concerns about the pace of instruction and the level of student engagement (the “Report”). The Report, prepared by Stacy Beardsley, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction at School District 65, was provided as an informational item to the School Board for its Jan. 25 meeting. The memo was not discussed by the Board.

The District is using five indicators to track progress in remote learning during this school year. They are:

·       Access to grade-level instruction

·       Student engagement in learning

·       Observation in classroom learning

·       Operations support for remote learning and

·       Stakeholder feedback

Access to Grade Level Instruction

“A key focus area is to ensure that students have access, with appropriate scaffolds and supports, to grade level curriculum,” said Dr. Beardsley.

To track whether students are being provided a year’s worth of learning, the District has created an “assessment milestones document” that provides the timing for end-of-unit assessments in math and literacy. Teachers are expected to cover a specified curriculum by the date the end-of-unit assessment is scheduled.

Teachers may make decisions on the day in/day out lesson pacing based on what they know about their students learning needs. But by the date scheduled for the end-of-unit assessments, they are expected to have completed a specified curriculum.

“Therefore, educators are not on the same lesson on the same day across all our classrooms,” Dr. Beardsley said last fall. “Yet, to ensure that we do expose students to the necessary grade-level learning, we’ve established unit milestones to inform pacing across the units. This allows us to balance educator flexibility and decision making within the units with the need to make sure that we are exposing our students to the necessary grade-level learning across the course of the year.”

Thus, tracking when teachers give the end-of-unit assessments gives an indicator on whether they are on track with the pacing schedule.

Pacing of K-5 Math Instruction. The Report reflects that 88% of the District’s math teachers in grades 1 – 5 (non-TWI) are using the District-level end-of-unit assessment, Affirm. “We are working with principals to bring usage to 100%.”

The Report does not state how many teachers (or classrooms) are on track with the pacing schedule for grades K-5, but it says, “The greatest challenge we continue to face is pacing. In order to address this issue, we are working on providing various tools to support teachers, including module planner, additional professional development, and support of coaches and building leaders. The impact of delayed pacing would be students not having access to all the major learning of the grade.

The Report adds, “Moving to a hybrid setting will have a negative impact on pacing as teachers will have to spend time establishing new routines.”

Pacing of Middle School Math Instruction. With respect to Middle School math, the Report says the end-of-unit assessment for Unit 4 is on pace at 6th grade, about 3 weeks behind at 7th grade, and about 1 week behind at 8th grade.

Pacing of K-5 Grade Literacy Instruction.  “K-5 educators are implementing the Teachers College Units of Study and keeping up with the pacing of these units,” says the Report. “They are also administering the pre- and post-reading assessments accordingly.”

At the K-5 grade levels, one table in the Report reflects that the percentages of second- through fifth-graders who completed the Unit 2 Post-Assessment and the Unit 3 Pre- Assessment ranged from a low of 28% to a high of 38%.

The Report says not all teachers had responded to the surveys at the time this information was collected, so the data is incomplete.

“Curriculum and Instruction will continue to reach out to school leaders encouraging their teachers to administer the unit assessments as an essential component of their literacy instruction and to respond to the completion surveys when necessary.

“The Literacy department is in the process of revising pacing charts to reflect the return to onsite learning for some students which will include the need to build new relationships and routines.”

Pacing of Middle School Literacy Instruction. The Report says, “Changes in middle grade student rosters and teacher assignments prompted the need to adjust the pacing of ELA/Literacy instruction.”

Educators in the middle school grades ended the first unit of study of the StudySync language arts curriculum the week of Nov. 9 and began administering the unit assessment that same week.

One table in the Jan. 25 Report reflects that the percentage of students who completed the end of Unit 1 assessment in ELA/Literacy was 78% for sixth grade, 75% for seventh grade, and 73% for eighth grade.

Dr. Beardsley said this data is incomplete. She told the RoundTable, “This data was shared for the sake of the memo while some educators were still finalizing and grading assessments so all students are not included.” 

The Report also presents three charts showing how sixth, seventh and eighth graders performed on assessment questions aligned with grade-level common core standards. The assessment is intended to inform instruction, Dr. Beardsley told the RoundTable. The Report says the charts “show areas of strength as well as the need for continued emphasis on providing rich and meaningful standards-based instruction and curriculum resources to our middle grade students.

“A specific example is that 8th grade demonstrates the need to do more work reading informational texts deeply and analyzing the across texts to find differences of matters of fact or interpretation.”

Student Engagement in Learning

“It is critical that students are actively engaging in classroom learning whether they are or are not making assigned classroom times,” says the Report.

The District is using Clever Analytics to measure how many students are using the District’s learning applications in a 28-day period and also how many students are using its applications on a daily basis.

The usage data may be incomplete, however, because “Clever collects data through the Chrome browser plugin so we are not able to collect data consistently from our iOS (Apple) devices and/or devices that are not using the Chrome browser to access” the District’s learning applications, said Dr. Beardsley in the fall.

  All Student Usage. One data point is the “overall app usage through Clever for all grades,” said Dr. Beardsley. One chart in the Report shows that in the 28 days prior to Jan. 15, the total “unique users” were “6K” for students and 496 for teachers. For that period, the usage by “scoped users” was 81.8% for students and 70.8% for teachers.

A student is regarded as a unique user if they accessed a District 65 learning App through Clever on at least one occasion during the 28-day period. Thus, 81.8% of the District’s students used Clever at least once in the 28-day period.

On a daily basis, the highest number of students in all grades who accessed the District’s learning Apps through Clever was about 3,600.

The chart shows that the total number of times that students logged in using Clever during the 28-day period is “132.1K” times.

“The total logins are less due to the holiday break, said Dr. Beardsley. But she added, “The percent of students accessing Clever is a concern, and the Curriculum department and the School department are working to better understand the data point and address any students who are not accessing learning through our remote learning engagement process.”

Again, the data does not reflect students’ total usage of the District’s learning Apps because Clever is not the only access point.

Fifth Graders Usage: Another data point analyzes the use of Clever Analytics, but just for fifth-graders. The Report says an analysis of fifth graders was selected “because the majority of students [in fifth grade] are using District 65 issued Chromebooks and they are using the Chrome browser to access Clever so we believe this is the best quality data we are receiving from Clever.”

A chart in Dr. Beardsley’s memo reflects that there were 769 unique student users in fifth grade, and that 92.7% scoped users used the District’s learning apps at least one time in the 28 days prior to Jan. 15.  

Thus, 92.7% of the District’s fifth graders used Clever at least once in the 28-day period.  

The chart also reflects the number of fifth-graders who used Clever to access the District’s learning apps on a daily basis. The highest daily usage was just short of 450 students between Jan. 4 and 8 and Jan 11 and 14 – the nine days of school after the holidays that were included in the Report.  

The RoundTable asked Dr. Beardsley if this meant that only 450 of the 769 fifth graders were engaged on any given day. Dr. Beardsley said the data provided by Clever is incomplete.

She told the RoundTable, “Students access Google Classroom directly through the Google Suite.  It is not in Clever. They use Clever to access Eureka InSync, STMath and other applications. A student could be in class every day and completing their educators work and possibly not register in Clever.”

Branching Minds. The Report says, “Remote Engagement is defined by three points 1) The student is logged on to their classes, 2) the student is actively engaged in the online learning (asking/answering questions, participating in class discussion or group work, camera on when needed) and 3) the student is turning in work.”

If a student is not logged in or is disengaged for three consecutive days, the District attempts to contact the student’s family, says the Report. If a student continues to be disengaged, the student is entered into “Branching Minds,” and a plan is developed to address the student’s disengagement. The student is then monitored by a “Remote Engagement Tracker” for at least three weeks.

If disengagement continues, educators and administrators can set up a Zoom appointment with the student and family to create a “Home-Based Support Plan” to help get the student back on track. This support plan is put in place and monitored for at least three weeks in Branching Minds.

The Report says 115 students have an engagement plan and are being monitored by the Remote Engagement Tracker, 15 students have a Home-Based Support Plan, and 93 are receiving other SEL/attendance supports.

Observations of Classroom Learning

Principals are continuing to observe teachers while they are teaching in their virtual classrooms. The goal of the observations is to provide feedback to improve instruction and continuous learning. The Report says there have been 3,720 observations in K-5 virtual classrooms, and 2,137 in Middle School virtual classrooms.

Operational Support for Remote Learning

“In order for learning to occur, we have to make sure that we are providing the tools and the support necessary so that educators can put as much attention and students can put as much attention into the learning,” says the Report.  

The Report says the District has distributed the following technology supports and devices to create opportunities to access learning:

  • 901 hotspots have been deployed for staff and students
  • 5,270 iPads, Chromebooks, or other devices have deployed to students and teachers
  • 538 devices have been repaired
  • 19.5 average number of hotline calls per day
  •  452 additional devices have been deployed to staff to support paraprofessionals, support staff and teachers to lead and facilitate learning.

The Student Remote Learning Survey

Students in grades 6, 7, and 8 had an opportunity to complete the student remote learning survey in the first two weeks of November.  About 1,450 students responded to the survey. The Report says the survey results may skew in the positive direction “since the data is based on those who completed the survey.

 “Overall, students reported a mixed experience with remote learning, with approximately 40% reporting a good or very good experience, 40% replying that they were neutral and approximately 20% reporting a bad or very bad experience.”

The charts in the chart box below show the responses for the recent survey to the question above, as well as to the following statements: “I am able to stay focused while doing my school-work at home”; “I am confident that I will be able to complete my assigned school work for this month”; “I am concerned with my mental health and well-being (ex. stress).”

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...