In late August, the CT Department of Education released a report detailing student outcomes on tests run by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Not surprisingly, the results indicate that students in Grades 3- 8 who were in-person for 75 percent or more of their classes last year outperformed those in hybrid models and significantly outperformed those who were fully remote.
Overall, proficiency was lower in 2020-2021 than in 2018-2019 (the year before the pandemic lockdowns), especially for students in hybrid or remote models in both English and Language Arts (ELA) and Math. A similar pattern emerged for both students with and those without high needs: High needs students who were in person scored at a 25.5 (out of 100) proficiency in Math, while those in hybrid classes scored 15.8 and those at home just 10.9. Students without high needs scored an average of 68.7 if they were in-person, while their peers in hybrid classrooms scored only 53.2 and those fully remote dropped to 45.2.
More details are available in the full report, which acknowledges that low participation in alternate assessments, may compromise the value of these “aggregate results.” The report concludes:
“The encouraging results among students who learned fully/mostly in-person strengthen the case for offering full time, in-person instruction during 2021-22. The performance declines, especially in mathematics and among students who learned in hybrid or fully/mostly remote models, demand the sustained implementation of evidenced-based solutions.”
At the same time, schools across Connecticut are already dealing with Covid outbreaks among both students and teachers. This begs the question of whether remote or hybrid learning can still be a viable option for times of public health crisis.
The most obvious answer is, “Not in its current form.”
For decades, American homeschooling families have successfully educated children outside of conventional or government classrooms. According to a 2015 study by Dr. Brian Ray, home educated children on average score 15 to 30 percentile points above public-school students on standardized tests. The record is even higher among Black students: they score 23 to 42 percentile points above Black public school students.
The issue with remote learning is clearly not the location of the student.
Experienced homeschoolers know that it is more difficult to recreate a classroom at home than it is to adapt their teaching style and curriculum to the at-home model. Asking parents plunged into the world of remote learning while also juggling what was, for many, a new working-from-home reality is asking the impossible. Asking teachers to assess students they have seen daily in-person with the same assessments they will use on students they’ve met once or twice is, frankly, a waste of their time.
The crisis comes when conventional schools hold on to the “easy fix” and try to recreate “school at home” and try to provide fully remote students to the same pedagogy, the same assessments, and the same order of learning as their peers who are in-person. This is not a criticism of teachers or administrators put in the impossible position of coming up with remote solutions almost overnight in 2020.
We are, however, 18 months into the pandemic, and it’s high time for professional state educators to think outside the box. They could begin by talking to parents and educators who already educate in alternative and highly effective ways.
As the pandemic grinds on, teachers take early retirement, and vaccine or mask mandates morph, it is highly likely that schools across the state will again have to consider remote or hybrid options. Administrators should take the results of the Department of Education’s report as a clear call to rethink these options.
If it becomes necessary again to close down schools, we must have a plan in place that draws from the wealth of successful homeschooling experience present in our state. Educators and teachers would do well to observe pedagogical methods and means of assessment that can be integrated into at-home family life. Instead of disrupting a curriculum of study that was designed for a classroom of 25 – 40 peers, remote learning could thrive with its own curriculum, assessments, and standards that keeps students on track for the fundamentals of learning: reading, math, wonder, and excitement.
Zoom rooms into the public school classroom have failed. It’s time to think outside the box and prepare for future closures. The CT Department of Education should use a portion of its pandemic funding to create true hybrid and remote options that the state could confidently call upon in the face of public health needs.