NORWALK, Conn. — A finely tuned “Emergency Closure Remote Learning Policy” is up for a vote at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting. Its primary goal is to reduce the achievement gap given the realities of distance learning.
“Prolonged school closures disproportionally impact high needs students whom lack the resources and access to equitable online learning experiences. Understanding, addressing and … mitigating this inequity is a cornerstone of this policy,” the draft states.
BoE Policy Committee members met four times to draft the document, including an unheard-of Friday evening meeting, to meet the May 19 deadline for a full Board vote ahead of end-of-the-semester grading.
The team studied remote learning policies from New Canaan, Canton and Portland, Committee Chairwoman Heidi Keyes said.
“The goal of this policy is to ensure that we take into consideration access and equity during this closure,” Keyes said. “…We also want to make sure that we’re motivating and engaging our students throughout this holiday, throughout this process of distance learning, and we realize the challenges. But I feel that our teachers and our students and our staff and our parents have worked really, really hard on this.”
A floor for grade averaging
Grade point averages for high school students will be determined by “grade bracing,” using the first semester average as the “floor,” or “brace,” the drafted policy states. If the student’s cumulative grade is higher than the first semester grade, that’s what the final grade will be. If the “floor” grade is higher than the average, then that’s what will count, “assuming the student has been sufficiently engaged in coursework through the fourth quarter.”
A pass/fail will be used on the transcript. Students may also earn an “incomplete,” allowing NPS to continue their education with summer learning or a credit recovery program in the fall.
“We have students who need what we believe to be some identified focused tutoring to help them close out their classes. They’re close, they’re missing a few assignments,” Norwalk Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Brenda Myers said to the Committee last week.
A senior could take advantage of the opportunity, but would graduate in August, she said.
Similarly, a student who fails a course could try again in the summer or fall.
Grade bracing will also be employed at the middle school level, while elementary students are subject to the usual Standards-Based report card.
“Progress that students were making during in-school instruction will be used as the basis for the academic rating and additional information gathered as part of elementary assessment practices to show growth and progress,” the drafted policy state. “This practice is called ‘progress bracing’ and is parallel to ‘grade bracing.’”
Some families fear grade bracing could diminish students’ motivation to strive forward, Board member Diana Carpio said.
“The beautiful thing about this is that there are only a few weeks left of school and we’ve been collecting grades right along, so there wasn’t like this pre-determined the minute you walked out your grade was braced,” Myers replied.
Fears of being overbearing
A key element of the policy concerns privacy. It’s carefully worded in light of Board members’ and administrators’ fears of scaring parents away from distance learning.
Attorney Thomas Mooney was consulted.
“If we come across overbearing on this, he thought that we might actually lose parent engagement, they might be concerned about their home being recorded through the live stream,” NPS Chief of School Operations Frank Costanzo said last week.
Teachers are “mandated reporters,” meaning they must report suspected child abuse or dangerous situations, and it was decided to remove references to this in the policy’s language and instead address the issue through teacher training.
Parents who aren’t here legally might recognize that language as coming from the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and say “no way” to allowing teachers into their homes electronically, Carpio said.
The policy does say, “To protect student confidentiality, other individuals in the home should refrain from participating in or being visible on the video conference, or otherwise observe the lesson, other than reasonable supervision of the student. Parents/guardians and students are prohibited from recording video conferencing sessions.”
The term “reasonable” was inserted given the realities of limited living space that can make it difficult for other family members to stay out of range of computer video conferencing.
“I think all of our students are trying so hard, especially our youngest students… they might have a parent though that needs to help them,” Keyes said.
Students won’t be suspended from remote learning; the word “suspension” was taken out of an early draft and “modification” was substituted, on Mooney’s recommendation.
“Any recording, release or disclosure of confidential information about other students or their families, and any disruption to the delivery of instruction to any student, may result in the modification of online remote learning privileges,” the drafted policy states.
The draft also addresses the possibility of schools remaining closed because of emergency, or having to operate traditional brick and mortar classrooms at less than 100 percent student and/or staff capacity.
Early indicators are that “it’s very possible that districts will need to reduce their student populations in order to maintain social distancing and to minimize the possibility of community transmission of COVID-19,” Costanzo said on May 1. “…We could be operating in a hybrid world come fall or winter with individual schools or the full district needing to operate the building under some government order to reduce the number of students in the class.”
Also on May 1, Godfrey Azima was worried about special education students in the 18-21 program.
“I’m hearing right now, these kids are in limbo,” he said.
“There is a national discussion about what happens to the kid that’s turning 21, that is aging out in this environment and the federal government has not given us any guidance on that yet,” Chief of Specialized Learning and Student Services Yvette Goorevitch said.
But districts are being advised to make decisions based on pre COVID trajectories, so that students who were eligible for ESY (extended school year) classes will still be eligible for ESY, she said. The 18-21 program doesn’t belong in the new policy because it will be subject to federal guidance.
“We probably have about 40 kids in our 18- to 21-year old program in total, of which maybe four or five of them are aging out,” Goorevich said. “There are maybe two or three kids in our district programs that with very intensive disabilities that are scheduled to age out. We’ve been doing intensive transition work with them pre-COVID, you know, you don’t transition at 21 in a month, that’s a long process. So their next steps are already planned.”
Ready for a vote
Myers thanked the Board for being supportive about grading.
“There are some places where there’s quite a debate about, you know, making sure that students earn the grade and, and you know, and I think we’ve really recognized a balance here,” Myers said on May 1. “… But we also understand this is a difficult time. And there’s an equity issue for many of our students. So I thought the balance and the board support was really very helpful in this.”
“I know that we’ve spent a really good amount of time on this and I think it was needed,” Keyes said last week “…. So I do believe it’s … much more comprehensive than we when we originally initiated this conversation. I think the policy looks good.”