PENDLETON — With the movement of classes online for remainder of the school in K-12 and post-secondary settings in the interest of containing the COVID-19 pandemic, there are likely to be a number of short-term and long-term issues that will need to be hammered out, education leaders said.
For instance, amid social distancing during a period of eLearning, teachers from East Elementary School on Monday welcomed students back from spring break with a parade through their neighborhoods rather than with a hug or high-five at the classroom door.
“We’re all sad and know our kids are too. So to brighten everyone’s day, we will be taking route in our own cars through our community to wave to many of our students,” said third grade teacher Melissa Merz in an email Sunday to parents and students.
Joe Cronk, interim superintendent at Anderson Community Schools, said the biggest immediate challenge in the face of this historic public reaction to the pandemic is that it raises more questions than it answers. For instance, he said, he’s waiting on guidance from the Indiana Department of Education in terms of whether eLearning will meet the standards, allowing students to advance to the next grade by the end of the school year.
“How much instruction do we provide to students at home? How do we support that? How do you judge the authentic learning being done?” he said.
Another challenge, Cronk said, is the mandate of social distancing.
For now, schools at all levels are relying on virtual education. While colleges and universities already routinely use this method of delivering instruction, it’s newer to K-12 education where this will be the first time eLearning is used for many districts, such as Elwood Community Schools.
Cronk said eLearning could someday provide a viable solution for long-term building closures such as the current one for the new coronavirus, but as it stands now, it really isn’t.
“For the future, I think districts will have to look at a more robust virtual model,” he said. “It was designed to provide instruction on weather days, or to allow room in the calendar to provide teacher in-service. It was never designed to be a long-term fix. We, collectively, will have to look at long-term eLearning solutions that can fill large gaps.”
However, Cronk said he believes teachers will be able to make the best of a less than optimal situation.
“Our teachers have done a great job Apollo 13-ing our solution on very short notice. Failure is not an option,” he said.
Another problem area in the future is likely to be standardized testing. While all testing has been canceled for this school year under order from Gov. Eric Holcomb and problems with the inaugural eLearn test have led to amnesty for state accountability, districts likely will be held responsible for test scores in the future.
But with a disrupted school year, some superintendents – many of whom are against using standardized tests to compare students or districts – believe the social distancing period will have a long-term effect on outcomes.
That’s one of the reasons Commander Jill Barker, superintendent at Anderson Preparatory Academy, believes all high-stakes testing should be permanently abolished.
“There were already so many issues with testing and academic gaps created by the new tests and new standards over the past seven years, and I don’t think there’s any going back,” she said. “It would be best if it was left to a local decision and that we could use a platform like NWEA to get meaningful data that can immediately impact instruction.”
This period of social distancing also is likely to lead to a great deal of innovation in education, Barker said.
“Teachers across the nation are digging deep and creating beautiful and engaging lessons using a myriad of resources. With the absence of testing, teachers have true freedom to create and best serve their students. I hope that freedom continues,” she said.
However, in a school year on which a great deal of emphasis has been placed on social-emotional learning at APA and most other districts, this is a critical area in which gains can be lost, Barker said. That also can have a lasting effect on academic achievement.
APA also is considering how it will handle advancement of students to the next grade.
Corey Sharp, director at Purdue Polytechnic Anderson, said long-lasting changes and innovations also are likely at the post-secondary level, though he’s not sure how those might manifest themselves.
“At minimum this provides students, faculty and staff a new learning opportunity. I think it is something that needs to be researched and studied,” he said.
As a commuter rather than online campus, Purdue Polytechnic relies heavily on in-person education, though virtual education is an important part of its model, giving students broader choices, Sharp said.
“While Purdue Polytechnic Anderson is a commuter campus we highly value the in-person social, tactile and kinetic form of education,” he said.
However, not all instructors were prepared to go totally online, Sharp said.
“For those who have not taught online we offered consulting sessions with our more experienced professors who regularly teach online. In one instance we have decided to use a faculty member as a teacher’s assistant to help a colleague adjust to online instruction,” he said. ”The University asked the faculty to revise their syllabi and address these four elemental questions. 1) How will I communicate with students? 2) How will content be delivered? 3) How will students complete learning activities? 4) How learning will be assessed. The Anderson faculty have responded well to these questions and I am confident in our team as we move forward. “
Students can expect to earn credits as they would have had their brick-and-mortar education continued this semester, Sharp said. That, in large part, is because instructors have been nimble and able to adapt their classes to remain meaningful, he said.
“They really stepped up in the last few days,” he said. “Many of our faculty, both full time and part time, teach online, so this transition has been relatively smooth. Some of our faculty are on the forefront of using distance technology for lab intensive classes. As a result we have a tremendous amount of intellectual capital and experience at the Anderson location.”