Among the biggest lessons local educators report about remote learning is that less of it’s better for students and all of it needs close oversight.
After a semester heavily dependent on remote learning, they’re working to bring more students back to classrooms and have improved their virtual-learning platforms for students who can’t do that, they said.
Attendance and assignment completion among online students were Texas City Independent School District’s biggest struggles last semester, deputy Superintendent Susan Myers said, adding that about 2,815 students, 35 percent of the district’s 8,044 students, were learning online.
The district has welcomed back about 6,403 students, or 80 percent of the student body, to classrooms for the spring and has created a district-wide academy to improve online learning, Myers said. About 844 students, or 30 percent of Texas City Independent School District’s 2,815 virtual students were struggling last fall, she said.
The district also has changed some procedures and tightened oversight, she said.
Teachers working online will instruct students throughout the district instead of at their home campus, and administrators will be assigned to specific grade levels to monitor virtual students this semester, Myers said.
Fifty-five million U.S. school children did classwork online during the spring 2020 semester. About 30 million online students, 55 percent, found the lack of social interactions troubling, according to research organization Multisystemic Therapy.
About 24 million online students, or 45 percent, were more likely to underperform because of that, according to Multisystemic Therapy.
Dickinson Independent School District students struggled with remote learning during the fall semester, so the district decided to return more students to school, said Tammy Dowdy, director of communications.
About 10,788 students, or 93 percent of the district’s 11,600 students, are back in the classroom this spring semester, Dowdy said. That’s an increase from the 9,048 students, or 78 percent, of students in classrooms during the fall.
School districts must complete several steps to discontinue remote learning for students, including submit justification to the Texas Education Agency and notify parents at least two weeks prior to requiring a student to return to campus, said Melissa Holmes, media relations representative at the Texas Education Agency.
Remote learning was tough for the Dickinson school district because it was like handling two different school systems at the same time, Dowdy said.
“Teachers were not there face to face to help online students with their problems,” she said. “You can do Zoom, but you can’t replace a teacher face to face.”
The Friendswood Independent School District made several improvements meant to increase student success for spring semester, including requiring online students with grade averages below 70 percent or excessive absences to return to in-person learning and requiring students to have successful attendance and academic performance to participate in online learning, said Dayna Owen, director of communications and public relations.
Some remote learning challenges for Ambassadors Preparatory Academy, 5001 Ave. U in Galveston, are ensuring all students, parents and teachers have the necessary professional development needed to ensure student academic success, Superintendent Pat Williams said.
The academy wants to continuously increase communication with parents this spring and expand funding resources needed to support technology use and professional development for teachers, students and parents, Williams said.
In the Galveston Independent School District, 2,200 students learned remotely in fall 2020, said Audrey Torres, chief strategy and innovation officer. Now only 1,600 students are learning online through the district’s Students Access Innovate Learning or SAIL program, Torres added.
Some of the biggest challenges the Galveston school district had with online learning were large class sizes and students switching back and forth between online and in-person learning, Torres said, adding the constant movement was disrupting learning.
Galveston school district hired more teachers for the spring semester to serve more students and decrease class sizes, Torres said. The district now allows online students to move from online to in-person learning every grading period instead of every three weeks, she said, adding that students learning in-person, however, can move weekly to the district’s online learning platform.
The district’s online learning program, created and run by administrators Michelle Hammonds, Julia Ramirez and Michelle Pedalino, has been an overall good program despite a few challenges, Torres said.
“SAIL allows students to have a choice in the way they want to learn and prepares them for future online courses in colleges,” she said. “It also helps if we have to go remote because of inclement weather or COVID-19.”