Teachers across Galveston County have had to adapt their curriculums drastically this year to account for changes in learning techniques brought on by the pandemic, and some educators are worried that some students’ needs won’t be fully met, they said.
Many educators are worried the fractured nature of the school year will lead to some students — particularly those whose families are economically disadvantaged and have fewer resources — falling behind in the curriculum. Efforts to prevent that from happening have greatly altered teaching methods and ways the state assesses students and schools this year.
Unlike in the spring, when districts had to immediately pivot to deliver instruction, teachers since have undergone uniform training to teach students who are learning in person or virtually, said Annette Scott, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at the Galveston Independent School District.
Schools in March closed quickly and moved to an all-virtual format as the coronavirus closed campuses. Many teachers worried then that not all students were engaging with instruction and still worry about it today.
Schools have opened this academic year with the option for both in-person and virtual learning. And educators have had much more time to prepare, Scott said.
“Teachers have scheduled office hours or intervention time, or they establish time to work with the student one on one or maybe it’s small groups,” Scott said.
Although some tests will be given virtually, Texas City Independent School District plans to keep up with regular assessments, spokeswoman Melissa Tortorici said.
The district has a secure browser set up in which students can take tests, helping teachers keep track of how students are learning, she said.
Students will be required to take the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, test in spring 2021, said Melissa Holmes, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, which administers state testing.
Gov. Greg Abbott in July waived the requirement that students in fifth and eighth grades make a certain score on the test to advance to the next grade, Homes said.
“This will be a uniquely challenging school year, therefore, this year is about providing students every opportunity to overcome the disruptions caused by COVID-19,” Abbott said in a statement when he announced the waiver in July.
UP TO THE TEACHER
But testing alone isn’t the solution — even when schools aren’t dealing with teaching during a pandemic, said Ovidia Molina, president of the Texas State Teachers Association.
“We don’t like the STAAR test on regular days,” Molina said.
Instead, teachers want to focus on individualized plans for each student, she said.
Besides, testing won’t prove that students aren’t falling behind, said Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center.
Making sure students don’t fall behind ultimately will be on the shoulders of each teacher, he said.
“For the most part, teachers will need to make those individualized assessments via classroom knowledge and tests,” Welner said.
Schools will need money and resources if teachers are going to make such individual assessments, he said.
But tests are important for benchmarking where students are coming back from the long pandemic-induced break and in figuring out where students stand at the end of the year, said Terra Wallin, associate director of Pre-K through 12th Grade accountability for national nonprofit The Education Trust.
“We know that we have students who had interrupted instruction in the spring,” Wallin said. “They may not have been receiving instruction for two or three months.”
The challenge of making sure students don’t fall behind will fall along already existing achievement gaps for low-income students and students of color, Wallin said.
Of the 21,600 Texas students who dropped out of school in 2016, more than two-thirds, or 14,400, were economically disadvantaged, according to nonprofit advocacy group Every Texan, formerly the Center for Public Policy Priorities.
And though 96 percent of Asian students and 94 percent of white students are likely to graduate in four years in Texas, only 87 percent of Hispanic students and 86 percent of Black students are likely to do the same, according to Every Texan.
Even before the pandemic, resource gaps existed for low-income or minority students and those students might need extra focus, Wallin said.
“Exclusionary education practices are used more frequently on students of color,” Wallin said. “COVID, in some ways, has really just shined a spotlight on our disparities.”
Educators must balance keeping students safe and making sure students are educated, Molina said.
“It’s a catch-22 when we say we want vulnerable populations to come back,” Molina said.
Although low-income or other vulnerable students are more likely to need in-person classes to thrive, their families also are more at-risk should a family member becomes ill, she said.
“When they become ill or someone in their family becomes ill, it’s a bigger impact because we know they can’t afford to be sick,” Molina said.
Local districts are aware of the challenges facing teachers and administrators this year.
Galveston ISD plans to check in with students to make sure they’re not falling behind, Scott said.
“We’re fortunate in our district that we have an attendance officer,” Scott said. “He will literally go to the home to check to make sure everything’s OK with the family.”
In an ideal world, students would all be able to learn in-person, but Texas City is doing its best to reach students where they are, Tortorici said.
“The hope is that the online learning is as equitable as the in-person,” Tortorici said. “It’s different. It’s very different. I understand why parents are concerned about that. We’re concerned about that.”