KSN Investigates: Are students dealing with consequences from remote learning?

KSN Investigates

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — It’s back to school for Kansas. And for the majority of students, it’s back to the traditional classroom model. KSN wanted to know if those students are ready or if they have any catching up to do from their days of remote schooling.

The parent’s perspective

“It was kind of scary dropping, at the time, a five year old off in this big building, to walk in by herself for her very first day of school,” said Andrea Hattan, a mother.

It’s a natural feeling for many parents as they watch their children take a big step into a larger world.

“I’m just glad we got to do it, instead of just completely shutting down and having those kids fall behind,” said Lindsey Santellan, another mother.

Santellan and Hattan are two parents who witnessed how their kids adapted to learning during the pandemic.

“Her very first year of school was the pandemic,” Hattan said.

In other words, her daughter never knew school without masks or social distancing. For older students, the majority of the school year was remote.

“It caused some problems for my stepdaughter, who has problems with her attention span,” Santellan said.

However, it was a different story for her other daughter.

“My ten year old thrived, so I really saw a difference there in having different personalities in these kids would affect how they transition to the digital learning environment,” she said.

The challenge for schools

“There was a lot more responsibility given to the student which allowed them to think more, provide more rigor for them, think at higher levels, so I think there was some great opportunities for our students last year,” said Gil Alvarez, the deputy superintendent for Wichita Public Schools.

So do students feel they are behind, ahead, or just where they need to be with their learning?

“I think it’s a little of them all,” Alvarez said.

He acknowledges that it was a challenge tracking academic progress during a pandemic. Schools relied on test scores, enrichment activities, and state assessments. But sometimes, even that doesn’t tell the whole story.

“A lot of our teachers were also trying to find out, ‘How do I reach out to make sure students are doing OK?’ because you could see those signs and get them help in the school versus, ‘Your camera is off. I don’t even know what your body language is showing,'” Alvarez said.

Looking at the numbers

KSN Investigates tracked some information about grade point averages, dropped classes and absences from seven different school districts, including Wichita, Salina, Garden City, De Soto, Cimarron-Ensign, Kiowa County and Ingalls.

The GPA went down for four of the school districts. Wichita Public Schools doesn’t track GPA. Ingalls Public Schools was the only one where the average GPA went up, and De Soto Public Schools GPA stayed the same.

Grade Point Average

School District2018-20192019-20202020-2021
Cimarron-Ensign, USD 1023.653.643.52
De Soto, USD 2323.343.343.34
Garden City, USD 4572.862.952.73
Ingalls, USD 4773.493.583.59
Kiowa County, USD 4223.453.53.43
Salina, USD 3052.862.912.71
Wichita, USD 259NANANA

The majority of districts that got back to us reported both excused and unexcused absences went up last school year.

For example, Wichita Public Schools saw excused absences rise by more than 42% from the 2019-2020 to 2020-2021 school year, and unexcused absences also increased by almost 82%. Parents we spoke with said tech issues with remote learning sometimes led to absences.

“We made sure to show some grace during that time,” Alvarez said. “If somebody called in and said, ‘Here is our problem,’ we definitely looked at each case, case by case, and we made adjustments that were appropriate.”

When it comes to dropped classes, some districts say the information can be misleading or incomplete. For example, both Wichita and Garden City saw class drops rise between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years.

During the 2019-2020 school year, Wichita had 116,789 class drops, and 153,339 during the 2020-2021 school year. Garden City had 17,234 class drops during the 2019-2020 and 22,198 during the 2020-2021 school year. However, both districts count switching from a remote to a traditional class and vice versa as a dropped class.

We may never get the answer to how many students actually dropped classes.

“I think if we could do some digging, but I don’t know if there’s a real good answer to that because there’s a lot of different ways or reasons why a student would be dropped or added, especially during a pandemic,” Alvarez said.

A new back-to-school national online survey from Junior Achievement showed 39% or two in five students feel they are behind because of the pandemic. In addition, 37% said they feel they’re behind permanently.

“When you don’t have them face to face, in person, to really put everything you have into teaching, everything, you have to make sure you’re successful. It just makes it a little more difficult to do that,” Alvarez said.

The school districts and parents we talked to think there were some positives to remote learning.

“The positive thing I look at is that we can do it,” Santellan said. “We were freaking out at first. We thought that the kids couldn’t go to school all year until this blew over, and they were going to be so behind, but we really banded together and figured it out.”

“I definitely think that they’re going to see that the kids that went through this are going to be more resilient, flexible, able to pivot, problem solve in different ways, so those are the positives,” Hattan said.

“We heard a lot of success stories from students who were not as engaged when they were face to face, but parents saying, ‘My student is finally on the honor roll. My student finally didn’t fail one class,’ or ‘I got straight A’s,'” Alvarez said.

The big question now is if academic performance is going to change this year.

KSN Digital Extra: Graduation rates in Wichita Public Schools

“There’s definitely going to be a catch-up time, not just with learning, but with rules around school, you know, kids haven’t been in a traditional classroom environment,” Hattan said.

Some parents and school leaders are also concerned about COVID-19 and the delta variant potentially disrupting the learning process. However, they all agree that they prefer to have the kids learning in a traditional classroom.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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