The fact is, we don’t know yet what this fall is going to look like when school starts. All of us hope our return will look similar to how it has looked in prior years. But, we need to prepare for the reality that it might not. Truthfully, as we embark on the 2020-2021 school year, it is important that we be prepared for a whole host of disruptions.
Our Return to Learn Plan (RtL) is built on the premise of ‘asynchronous learning’. Simply stated, it is based on the idea that we are equipped for students to learn material at different times and at different locations. Sometimes referred to as ‘location independent’, our plan is designed in a way where we can switch seamlessly from on-site traditional learning to remote learning with little advanced warning.
Academics and the Research on Extending the School Year
While the school start date of August 23rd was waived this year paving the way for schools to start earlier if they so chose, very few Iowa schools have decided to take advantage. While on its face there are significant financial hurdles to adding days to a school calendar, from an academic standpoint there is an even more important point: it won’t work.
First, think about this concept from a purely objective viewpoint. Our students missed almost a quarter of the school year. There is no way to fit 8 weeks (in our case) of instruction into a one or two week period. It's impossible and defies logic. Second, lengthening the school year is not supported by scholarly educational research. Educational researcher John Hattie has found that adding days to a school calendar only has a .23 effect size on academic achievement. Effect size is a statistical measure of standard deviation and the larger the effect size, the larger the impact would be on the population.
The good news is that we know what works. A comprehensive Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS). This means we tailor instruction to the needs of our students using an ‘on time model of remediation’. Not all students are going to need the same remediation at the same time over the same topics. According to Hattie, this type of support system has an effect size of .73. Coupled with interventions, the annual impact on a student’s achievement could be has high as 1.29 standard deviations. To put that in persepctive, a one standard deviation increase is typically associated with advancing student achievement by two to three years.
(John Hattie, Visible Learning: A Synthesis of over 800 Meta Analyses Related to Student Achievement (2009), p.7
At the same time, we need to be clear that we haven’t completely shut the door on modifications to the school calendar. It is possible we could decide the length of the school year needs to be extended: but would it make more sense to add those days on to the back end of the calendar as opposed to the front end? When hopefully we have a much better sense of how the pandemic is impacting society? Or when we know how much and what targeted instruction is necessary? Additionally, we could determine that it makes sense to lengthen the school day—but maybe that doesn't need to happen until second semester. The point is, until students return to school and we start working with them, we really don’t know what they need. In any event, adjustments to the academic calendar should only be made when we have a clear picture of what we would do with that time and a way to demonstrate it truly is a value added benefit for students.
We intend to start school as scheduled on August 24. Once students are back in classrooms, it’s incumbent on our faculty to determine where students are in their continuum of learning by utilizing the assessment systems already in place. Then quite simply, we provide on-time remediation as we approach new learning. As we prepare to deliver instruction on a new standard, we are identifying what skills preceded that concept and are necessary in order to attain mastery of new learning. In some instances, that skill might have been scheduled for instruction during the time of our school closure. It is possible then, that remediation might include a very quick mini-lesson, or in others, it may require a more intensive approach. This is the appropriate time for personalized learning of that skill using our Multi Tiered System of Supports (MTSS).
You should expect then, that students will be exposed to grade level curriculum. In other words, if your child is going to be in 4th grade, we will start the year with 4th grade curriculum. Likewise, students who are taking Physics will be exposed to that curriculum as opposed to curriculum that may not have been covered in Biology. As students progress on their continuum of learning, we will fill in those gaps as we approach new standards and expose those missed opportunities through our scaffolding up process.
Opportunities for Extended Learning
Not every student in the district will require the same level of instruction or remediation. Additionally, some students may need social, emotional or behavioral health support. We feel a blanket approach is inappropriate and instead believe a more targeted and strategic pathway will yield better results. We are then, extending our school day for those parents/students/teachers who feel additional remediation is warranted. This will be accomplished by leveraging our already successful ‘After School Program’, utilizing our highly qualified instructor(s) working in tandem with pre-service teachers. Contact your child’s building principal and teacher for details on how we can best meet your needs. We are also prepared to offer school transportation services where necessary.
Resources and Guidance Documents
- Return to Learn published June 9, 2020
- Meeting the Needs of All Students When We Return to Learn: Academics and the Research on Extending the School Year (Part One)- published July 17, 2020
- Meeting the Needs of All Students When We Return to Learn: The Forecast (Part Two)- published July 24, 2020
- Meeting the Needs of All Students When We Return to Learn: Our Plan (Part Three)- published July 1, 2020
- Return to Learn Plan-Department of Education Submission
- Regulatory Guidance from the Iowa Department of Education *posted July 14, 2020
- Too Much or Not Enough? published July 8, 2020 *posted July 28, 2020
- Heavy Seas on the Horizon, But We’ll Trim Our Sails published July 15, 2020 *posted July 15, 2020
- If We Go Remote… published July 21, 2020 *posted July 28, 2020
- Our Runway Grows Short published July 28, 2020 *posted July 28, 2020
- Return to Learn Resources for Famiies and Communities *posted July 30, 2020
How Decisions on Closure Will be Made
One shouldn’t assume that a singlular diagnosed case of COVID-19 will result in a closure or shutdown of any school or attendance center in our district. If there is evidence of transmission, decisions about school closure will be made with the Black Hawk County Health Department, the Iowa Department of Public Health, and the Hudson Community School District.