As Feared, Virtual Education Slowed Down on Public School Performance | Education
As the main test results later showed, the sudden switch to virtual education in public schools due to the pandemic came as a shock to students and teachers as well as to parents.
âWe were so caught off guard,â said Kim Albin, educator for Livingston Ward.
The reliance on distance learning for most of the 2020-21 school year is also largely responsible for Louisiana’s drop in annual school results. Nearly three of our four public schools and school districts posted declines, according to results released Dec. 5 by the state Department of Education.
The more time students spend learning at home, the greater the drop.
Scores fell nearly three points when less than 25% of students relied on virtual education, and nearly double when most or all of a school relied on distance learning.
In-person students surpassed virtual learners by 15 points to meet the state’s academic goal in Math, English, Science and Social Studies.
Younger students suffered more than others.
âWe knew early on in the pandemic that virtual education was not at the level of quality that in-person and face-to-face teaching is routinely for our students,â said Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley.
âVirtual instruction has its place now and will develop more in the future,â said Brumley. “But for the here and now, it doesn’t replace face-to-face students with a high-quality teacher.”
The initial closure of classrooms in March 2020 immediately highlighted Louisiana’s digital divide.
One of the poorest states in the country was suddenly dependent on technology instead of classroom education.
As of August 2020, 25% of students did not have the internet access needed to attend classes.
In total, 86% of school systems started the school year with a combination of virtual and face-to-face lessons. About 9% of students spent the year 2020-21 in virtual learning.
Paula Summers Calderon, dean of the College of Education at the University of Southeast Louisiana, noted that students were used to classrooms since they were in pre-kindergarten.
âNow we’ve gone overnight to virtual learning or distance learning,â Calderon said. âThe students had never learned to learn from a distance. “
The students were suddenly at home, often arguing over computer time with their siblings.
No teacher was there to make sure they were paying attention or reading expressions for signs of understanding.
“A teacher can say a lot about her own teaching by looking at the faces in the classroom,” said Calderon, herself a former teacher.
West Baton Rouge Parish School System Superintendent Wes Watts made the same point. âEveryone says preparing teachers, but preparing students for such a sudden change was also difficult,â Watts said in an email.
âMost of the students had never been in a virtual environment for instruction,â he said. âIt was a huge change for them.
âSchools create a climate and a structure that allows for research-proven interaction to help students learn,â Watts said. âThese are much more difficult to create in a virtual environment. “
In addition, parents and guardians suddenly had to serve as “co-teachers” in a state where about three in four students live in a low-income household.
âParents have had to get more involved in their child’s education,â said Albin, director of the Livingston Parish Literary and Technology Center, which offers virtual and in-person lessons to students in Grades 3 to 5.
âThe little ones, some of them didn’t even know where a start button was on a computer,â she said.
Livingston Parish Educator Lorna Ott echoed this. âIt definitely changed the way parents view their children’s education,â Ott said.
Nikki Lavergne, deputy director of the center, recalls that officials scrambled to make a video to help parents navigate different platforms.
The district then offered training and orientation sessions to parents.
âThe pressure was with the parents and they didn’t know how to use these programs,â Lavergne said.
This pressure is often passed from parents to their children.
“The way parents were stressed definitely strained the emotional needs of the children,” said Erica Ikerd, educator at Ascension Ward.
The State Council for Elementary and Secondary Education last month secured a federal waiver that allowed the state to suspend annual letter grades for schools and districts when it was expected to a massive drop.
The Livingston Parish School District, ranked A, was one of the outliers, with its school performance score dropping from 88.5 out of 150 to 90.2.
The same goes for the West Feliciana Parish School District, which topped the Zachary school system to the best in the state for the first time in 15 years. District superintendent Hollis Milton said the system had done it in part by convincing parents they could safely refer their children for face-to-face education.
Milton said more than half of the district’s virtual students returned for the second semester, while those who took distance learning struggled to get test results.
âWe grew up because we took the approach that virtual cannot replace face-to-face teaching,â he said.