Virtual instruction affects school success across area
By Abigail Allen
School districts around the state have seen increased fail rates with the students who are using the distance learning format, including at Pilot Point, Aubrey and Tioga ISDs.
In Pilot Point, the fail rate for the first six weeks this year was at 138 students compared to the first six weeks last year of 89 students. In Aubrey, that rate for online learners was around 40%. Tioga reported a little over 40% for the first four weeks of school.
“The stuff that we’re going through is not exclusive to Pilot Point ISD,” Southard said. “It is the same song and dance that every district has.”
He attributed that to the effect virtual learning has on the majority of students.
“Nothing is going to replace good, solid face-to-face instruction,” Southard said. “I don’t care how good the program is that they’re on. Having that interaction with the teacher at a moment’s notice versus going through email or Zoom or any of those sorts of programs, it’s just not the same.”
The difference in teachers’ ability to supervise the kids as closely and give them feedback instantaneously, students’ ability to maintain attention, and parents and guardians’ abilities to get the students connected all contribute to that dynamic, he said.
That’s frustrating for educators, Southard said, “because we know they’re not getting what they need.”
The number of students across the district learning from home had already “dropped considerably” at the end of the first six weeks, he said.
The high school went from 91 virtual learners to 44, the middle school had 57 drop to 23, the intermediate school went from 100 to 37 and the elementary school had 75 drop to 38.
“I do think those numbers will continue to drop,” he said. “However, I don’t think it’s going to be as big of a drop.”
Although Pilot Point has not yet steered away from allowing families to have their students use distance learning, Southard said he thinks that’s a topic he and the board will have to consider soon.
“It has caused frustration on the part of everybody, and that’s why you see other districts—Whitesboro, Collinsville, Anna—if you get on Texas ISD, you’ll see it fairly regularly,” Southard said. “Other districts are saying, ‘No, we’re not doing this anymore. Our kids are suffering. It’s not working.’”
AISD Superintendent Dr. David Belding spoke with the AISD trustees on Oct. 21 during his instructional update about the fail rate the district reported for the first nine weeks. At the meeting, it was reported to be 44%. Web and Communications Specialist Amy Ruggini said the district has “refined the data that was presented at the board meeting,” which shows the failure rate for online students at Aubrey High School was 38.6%.
“Some districts I’ve talked to, it’s as high at 60% failure with their distance students,” Belding said, adding that although AISD isn’t that high, the administration is still unhappy with the number of kids failing one course or more while learning at home.
He added that several of the students who were included in those figures have come back to face-to-face learning.
The trustees were asking Belding whether he plans to require students to return to campus if they continue to fail.
“Our approach has been working with families instead of doing a mandate,” Belding said. “In the last commissioners call on [Oct. 15], the commissioner basically gave us guidance that we couldn’t use a mandate to say you have to come back.”
He added that different issues require different approaches.
Board Vice President Jody Gonzalez spoke up in favor of a synchronous online instruction model, which he said he believes would improve student performance.
Dow suggested an option where students could log in live or watch the recorded session later.
“In and of itself in a silo, I would say it’s very doable, but with all the other factors that are constantly evolving, that’s a big ask,” Belding said.
Belding said that method has proven more difficult than he anticipated would be the case.
Trustee Colleen Dow asked Belding for a more detailed report about the stat that will allow the board members to see the grade level of the kids who are failing, how many courses—one or more—they failed to be included in the list and whether the kids who are failing online are the same students who have struggled with grades in the past.
Dr. Charles Holloway said a return to in-school learning has improved failure rates in his district, which were hovering above 40% in the spring and during the first four weeks of the fall semester. Tioga ISD began the fall with four weeks of strictly online instruction.
“Our failure rates have dropped a lot over the past three weeks,” Holloway said. “It’s a heckuva lot better. Our attendance has been good as well.”
Holloway said an emphasis on having as many students as possible attending in person has also helped the teachers at Tioga.
“We feel like a load has been lifted off them,” Holloway said. “There’s still work to be done with some remediation, even from the spring. But the teachers are telling us they’re kind of relieved. March, April and May put the kids behind academically, but they’re coming around.”
Holloway added that a return to campus has resulted in fewer discipline issues than in previous years.
“The kids’ attitudes are good,” he said. “They’re happy to be here, and we’re doing all we can to support them. We’ve always said that when we come back [for in-school instruction] we want to be back for good. No going back and forth. So far, we’ve been able to do that, knock on wood.”
General Manager JT Strasner contributed to this report.