The Albemarle County school division’s plans to help students recover from pandemic-caused disruptions rely heavily on shared strategies implemented consistently throughout its schools.
“This is an opportunity to focus our efforts on strategies and best practices that we know have high levels of impact for all students,” said Jennifer Sublette, director of professional learning. “This is also an opportunity for us to learn from the experience of the past year, and focus our efforts on what we have learned is most essential for students.”
Sublette and other division leaders presented an overview of the learning recovery plans during Thursday’s county School Board meeting. A committee has spent the past several months reviewing national research, studies and surveys to craft the three-pronged plan, which encompasses a focus on increasing student self-efficacy, implementing a new tool to measure social-emotional learning and summer programs to mental and physical wellness.
All students in kindergarten through eighth-grade are guaranteed a week of free summer programming, though some students will be invited for more weeks, depending on academic criteria such as reading levels and tiered level of supports.
At the high school level, students who failed a class will have the chance to make up the credit, presenters said Thursday.
For the overall plan, Sublette said the committee was looking for strategies that were manageable and meaningful.
“We get it — teachers are exhausted,” she said. “And so this is not the year for eight new initiatives or 10 new programs. It really is about purposefully looking at our resources and the best approach.”
Of the learning recovery plan, Sublette said: “It’s about having a shared response, and then sort of shared focus on strategies that we think are really important.”
Board members were generally supportive of the overall plan but wanted to know more about how the different aspects would be measured, the data supporting the strategies and how the strategies would work for virtual students.
“The whole steering team has been working very hard putting a lot of time and energy into this project, and I’m excited about the plans that are in development,” schools Superintendent Matt Haas said at the meeting.
The division has budgeted $2.5 million for learning recovery efforts from its fund balance and is planning to use federal stimulus funds to cover costs, as well.
“Focusing on learning recovery … shouldn’t in any way be a comment on the amazing work of teachers,” Sublette said. “It was Herculean. They did a phenomenal job building community and building relationships.”
No county-specific data was included in the presentation, but the plan does include gathering data on student achievement. Most national studies have said the pandemic most likely will exacerbate existing achievement gaps.
“The academic data will be really important at the end of this year, especially because we’ve brought students back this spring,” Sublette said.
“We’re finding that not only are we able to then assess them in-person, which is critical, especially for our younger students, but we also are finding that they’re really blossoming the more they’re able to come into buildings. So there’s a sweet spot of not wanting to overstep assessment but also wanting to make sure that we’re getting the most useful data we can get.”
Sublette added that given what division staff know about how students learn and how that process changed in a virtual environment, they were able to start planning.
“We can wait for data; data’s great,” she said. “There’s no need to wait to know that our students and our families have been through a trying year, and that this creates a wonderful opportunity for us to engage and to partner with our community.”
In February, Haas said the division had seen an uptick in students receiving a D or F in language arts courses this year, as well as fewer students earning a B or C. However, slightly more students earned an A.
At the middle school level, participation dropped in the Measures of Academic Progress standardized test; however, the percentage of students scoring at or above the 50th percentile remained steady from fall 2019 to fall 2020.
More elementary students scored below the benchmark on the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening.
For social-emotional learning, the division is planning to implement the DESSA assessment program, which is a way to measure students’ social-emotional skills such as self-awareness, self-management and decision making.
Sublette said the assessment tool will more explicitly develop the intersection of social-emotional learning and academic achievement.
“I think that’s what I’m most excited about,” she said. “We know that they coexist and reinforce each other, but being able to really articulate that is very important.”
The core of the plan for academic recovery is student self-efficacy, a strategy that includes having students assess their own learning and set goals, followed by development of personalized learning plans.
“I think a wonderful thing about student self-efficacy is that it creates that fertile ground,” Sublette said, adding that it fits with other programs in place at county schools such as freshman seminar and the responsive classroom.
The presentation included videos of students in Kansas City and New York City who have participated in student-led conferences.
Currently, she said there are “pockets of student self-efficacy in division.” With this change, she said there’s an opportunity to implement the strategy with fidelity and consistency.
“Maintain our best practices, shore up our foundation and then add this layer of personal connection with kids that really engages them and the learning partnership,” she said of increasing student self-efficacy. “There’s enough room in here for a school and a teacher to maneuver, but enough clarity for here’s the why, here’s the how and here’s how it supports the rest of the work that you’ll be doing.”