The facts are hard to argue — distance learning is a struggle for an ever-growing swath of students, creating a digital divide large enough to swallow an entire generation of kids, leaving administrators, teachers and parents scrambling to try and find the solution amongst a sea of obstacles.
The Oakdale Joint Unified School District’s recent decision to bring the secondary students back to campus on a hybrid schedule following the winter break left some questioning whether or not it was too soon.
But, judging by the meteoric drop in grades, most notably core classes, the decision may be critical to salvaging a struggling student’s academic career.
However, as Stanislaus County moved to the more restrictive purple tier once more, the county must be in red tier for two weeks before the district can follow through with the proposed Jan. 4 return to campus for the secondary school sites.
With that said, OJUSD Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum/Instruction, Kristi Rapinchuk explained the difficult realization the district faced with the reality of distance learning.
“What we are seeing is what districts all over the place are describing as a digital divide. Sometimes it’s called a virtual divide. If you do a simple online search with either of those terms, you’re going to see articles coming in from all levels of education, saying kids that typically got good grades when they were in the classroom, for the most part, are still getting great grades in virtual learning. But kids that struggled a little bit are really struggling now and kids that struggled substantially are now getting F’s.”
What exactly does that look like for Oakdale’s high school population? For the first quarter of 2019 to first quarter 2020, the percentage increase in failing grades in the respective core classes (excluding Advance Placement classes) is worrisome and they look like this:
English — 54 percent
Math — 17 percent
History — 37.84 percent
Science — 52.46 percent
While the district can understand why a parent with a student succeeding in distance learning would be reluctant to change what’s working for them, the district has to respond to all student needs, not the needs of a given few.
“We’re a public school district, and we need to serve all the students,” Rapinchuk said. “And right now we have to try something different.”
Rapinchuk pointed out, “The kids that do well in class, are doing well virtually and chances are they’re going to do well when we move into this hybrid schedule also,” adding, “but we have to try something different to try to help those kids that are just falling off the charts with their grades.”
With English being one of the heaviest hit with the plummeting grades, particularly in the English learners subgroup Hispanic/Latino, the district has encouraged teachers to grade with grace to aid the students as much as possible.
“Our teachers have been encouraged to be considerate. Don’t lower the rigor of your instruction and content but have a little grace when you grade kids because this is something they’re not used to,” Rapinchuk said.
But it would seem not all teachers received that memo as some have stated resolutely they will not accept any late work nor will they offer extra credit opportunities, regardless of circumstance, which further hampers struggling students.
In regards to the new hybrid plan, parents have since made suggestions, such as recording the teacher’s lesson to live-stream to the students at home but there are two major challenges with that suggestion: the ability to effectively teach the lesson to two separate groups of students simultaneously and the equipment capability to capture the footage.
To further delve into the challenges the district is facing in this new educational environment, the district posted a letter to parents, in the hopes of sharing information in the spirit of transparency.
The letter touches on the decision to implement the hybrid schedule, the split schedule, and instructional goals.
Parents can find the letter in its entirety on the district website: www.ojusd.org under the heading, OJUSD’s 7-12 Split Schedule - Supporting Success for All.